Norfolk based hospital ship returns from hurricane relief

The USNS Comfort pulls into port Nov. 20, 2017 after helping with hurricane relief work in Puerto Rico for two months. (Credit: WAVY/Marielena Balouris).

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Nearly two months after responding to Puerto Rico, the crew of the USNS Comfort made its way back to Norfolk on Monday.

The Navy hospital ship was sent to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. It was one of several locally based ships to have responded to the Caribbean during a string of powerful and devastating hurricanes.

“Brought about 750 sailors as well as additional civilian mariners onboard in about a 36 hour period,” said Cpt. Kevin Robinson, mission commander of the USNS Comfort.  “The name comfort is absolutely appropriate for what we do.”

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The Navy says crew aboard the Comfort have treated nearly 1,900 patients, performed 191 surgeries and provided 76,000 liters of oxygen.

Maria caused an estimated $115 billion in damages to Puerto Rico, according to one economist. The death toll from Maria has been reported as high as 54.

“When we first got there, there was no electricity at all.  Everything was dark,” said Civilian Master Cpt. Roger Gwinn.  “We were the bright beacon that had power.”

The crew worked with local doctors and hospitals to provide medical treatment to as many people as possible, whether they were a trauma patient or needed routine care.  When Puerto Ricans came onboard the ship for treatment, that’s when the crew knew they were making an impact.

Gwin said, “We met people who hadn’t showered in 9-10 days, hadn’t had a hot meal in the same amount of time.”

The Comfort is equipped with x-ray machines, a lens lab, a pharmacy, CAT scan unit and more.

Robinson said, “This is the first time I’ve ever been on a mission like this and it’s forever changed my life.”

As for those waiting back on the shore, they’re just happy their loved ones are home.

“I’m really happy that she’s coming home,” said Camden Rippentrop about his mom.  “Because I don’t really like anyone being home.”