USS Kearsarge returns home from hurricane relief

A sailor from the USS Kearsarge greets his daughter and son after returning home from deployment on Nov. 6, 2017.

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Another locally based ship has returned home after responding to hurricane relief efforts in the Carribbean.

Navy officials say the USS Kearsage left Naval Station Norfolk on Aug. 31 in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The dock landing ship was later redirected to support efforts after hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Both the Oak Hill and USS Wasp recently completed relief work in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Kearsarge pulled into port early Monday morning.  Between search and rescue operations, supply deliveries, clearing debris, the sailors and marines aboard the USS Kearsarge have been busy.

But some people had special assignments.

“When my family first saw me, they knew that they Navy was there, the armed forces were there, so they were very excited,” Petty Officer Second Class Zuleika Conill said.

Between the Kearsarge, the USS Oak Hill and the USS Wasp, about 100 sailors and marines have ties to Puerto Rico.  They were able to visit their families, while assessing the damage.

Conill said, “There was no power, so all the cables from the house came down the poles, so they didn’t have electricity.  Windows were broken because of the wind.”

The information they collected help direct relief efforts.

“We would integrate all that information and then we would share that with FEMA, the land forces, and all of our partners at the federal, territorial, and local efforts to help make sure that we were focusing our efforts to where it made the most help,” said Rear Admiral Jeffrey Hughes, who is the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group TWO.

Not everyone left the ship, but officials made sure they knew their work was making an impact.

“We used all the images that we took of shore and ran them on the ship’s internal TV station 24/7,” said Captain David Guluzian, commanding officer of the Kearsarge.

Officials say they wouldn’t have left if they didn’t believe the right assets were in the right place to continue helping people.  As for the families on the pier, they were happy to see their loved ones home.

“We’re going to go to her school and I’m going to let my husband walk into her school and surprise her that he’s home,” said Michael Centeno-Kukendall, whose husband was on his first deployment.  “I’m trying not to cry here as I talk to you because it’s been a long time waiting.”

At its maximum capacity, the ship had about 4,000 people on board.  On Monday, they brought home about 1,000 sailors and marines.

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