Hospital Ship Arrives in Puerto Rico, DoD Works on Commodity Distribution

Oct. 4, 2017 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News
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Defense Department personnel continue to arrive in Puerto Rico to help the island recover from Hurricane Maria, with roughly 10,000 DoD members working with commonwealth officials across the island, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said during a news conference in San Juan today.

The USNS Comfort pulls up to the dock.
The hospital ship USNS Comfort arrives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 3, 2017, to help support Hurricane Maria aid and relief operations. Air Force photo by Capt. Christopher Merian
The USNS Comfort pulls up to the dock.
Comfort Arrival
The hospital ship USNS Comfort arrives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 3, 2017, to help support Hurricane Maria aid and relief operations. Air Force photo by Capt. Christopher Merian
Photo By: Capt. Christopher Merian
VIRIN: 171003-F-EK767-0005X

The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived in San Juan yesterday, bringing with it state-of-the-art medical facilities and crew.

The ship is sailed by civilian mariners of the Military Sealift Command and staffed by Navy medics from around the United States. The majority of those on the ship come from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia, but there are sailors from at least 12 different bases aboard as well, Navy officials said.

The ship joins the amphibious assault ships USS Kearsarge and USS Wasp and the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill in Puerto Rican waters. The sailors and Marines aboard those ships were among the first to lend assistance to the stricken island. 

The governor said Hurricane Maria killed 34 people on the island and estimated the damage at up to $90 billion.

Roads, Bridges, Commodity Distribution

Military personnel are working with commonwealth personnel to clear roads, rebuild bridges and clear paths through landslides to get food and water via land to all Puerto Rico residents, Rossello said. DoD is working to build a comprehensive islandwide commodities distribution and medical support network in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services and the equivalent Puerto Rico agencies.

VIDEO | 00:38 | USNS Comfort Arrives in Puerto Rico

Getting food and water to affected communities remains the top priority for the commonwealth and federal assistance team, Rossello said. After that comes fuel -- particularly for hospitals and other critical infrastructure nodes -- telecommunications, electricity and shelter.

Eighty military helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft are flying missions around the island, ferrying supplies into areas where roads still haven't been cleared of trees and debris. 

Telecommunications remains a problem with only 12 percent of the population having cell service. DoD is delivering mobile cell towers to replace the thousands of towers destroyed in the storm.

Facilities Reopen

About 65 percent of the island's supermarkets and 153 banks are now open. About 430 ATMs are available, and 750 of Puerto Rico's 1,100 gas stations are operating.

VIDEO | 00:18 | Puerto Rico Governor Provides Update on Troops, Helicopters

More supplies are rolling onto the island. Officials processed almost 500 containers yesterday and said they expect to reach near normal levels in the coming weeks. These containers contain bottled water, generators, blankets and other support items.

The emergency continues on the island, but progress is being made, officials said. A sign that things are returning to normal is that Rossello relaxed the mandatory curfew. He asked Puerto Rico residents to remain off the streets from midnight to 5 a.m.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)