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USNS Comfort Prepares for All Eventualities in Haiti

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD THE USNS COMFORT, Jan. 18, 2010 – Haiti sounds like the seventh level of hell now, and the crew and medical staff of this hospital ship is preparing to enter it.

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Flight deck personnel work on one of the two helicopters assigned to the USNS Comfort as the ship steams south toward Haiti, Jan. 18, 2010. DoD photo by Jim Garamone
  

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The magnitude 7 earthquake Jan. 12 leveled the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Reports on the ground indicate that 400,000 Haitians are living in the streets, ship officials said. Either their homes are destroyed or too damaged to enter.

Red Cross officials estimate that between 50,000 and 100,000 people are dead, with thousands more injured.

Government offices were damaged or destroyed in the quake, and local control is tenuous at best, non-existent in most places. Government officials and police are victims just as any other Haitian in this crisis.

Food and fresh water is limited and entirely dependent on humanitarian efforts now. Violence and looting also has occurred in the capital, throwing many plans out the window.

The Military Sealift Command crew is driving the Comfort as fast as they safely can. They know time means lives and they are working to ensure no moment is wasted.

The humanitarian crisis also drives the medical staff as they prepare to receive casualties as soon as possible.

Plans now are for the Comfort to moor in the harbor of Port-au-Prince – as it did during a humanitarian exercise last year. The area is near what’s left of the United Nations compound. Depending on the security environment, Officials plan to send medical detachments ashore to help in casualty evaluation.

The ship has mobile security teams embarked, to provide force protection for the ship and deployed teams. They also will coordinate with U.S. forces already on the island.

Aboard the Comfort, staff members are ensuring medical supplies and equipment are where they need to be. Medical planners expect crush wounds and burn injuries to predominate, and are setting up accordingly. The ship is setting up 11 operating rooms, with eight expected to be working as soon as the ship reaches its station.

Medics are setting up wards and holding drills. Specialists tested casualty flow procedures through the ship this morning from the flight deck to patient admission to the operating rooms to the intensive care wards to regular patient wards.

Other specialists are ensuring that the equipment works properly and procedures are in place so X-rays, for example, are produced and read quickly. The pharmacy is readying to ensure the correct medications go to the right patients and the laboratory is ensuring the right tests are performed and matched to those who need them.

The crew also is working to absorb an expected influx of 350 more personnel. About 250 will be medical staff, and 100 are support personnel. This will allow the hospital ship to increase the number of patient beds and man all the operating rooms.

Other health safety personnel are infusing uniforms with prometherin – an insect repellent to ward off mosquitos that carry malaria.

The ship is scheduled to arrive in Haiti Jan. 21.

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Related Sites:
Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief

Click photo for screen-resolution imageA Military Sealift Command specialist charts changes in the harbor of Port-au-Prince as the USNS Comfort steams south to aid the people of Haiti, Jan. 18, 2010. DoD photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMilitary Sealift Command personnel conn the USNS Comfort toward Haiti for relief operations there, Jan. 18, 2010. The Comfort is enroute to Haiti to provide disaster relief following a Jan. 12, 2010 magnitude-7 earthquake. DoD photo by Jim Garamone  
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