United States disaster aid specialists realized shortly after the January 12, 2010 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean nation of Haiti that hurricane preparations would be essential as part of the recovery effort. While hurricane season was months away, these planners began preparations that are now bearing fruit. With the passage of Hurricane Tomas over the western portion of the island of Hispaniola and Haiti late this past week, the plans were put into motion.
On November 5, Mark Ward, Acting Director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, spoke with reporters at the State Department. That same day I was part of a telephone press conference with Capt. Thomas Negus, commodore, Continuing Promise 2010, about the Navy’s part in this effort.
The original stockpile of emergency assistance materials, distributed throughout Haiti, was augmented when it became evident that Tomas would be a severe storm. Supplies for 100,000 people were on location and enough supplies for 25,000 more people were rushed to the island. The United States and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) have stocks of food prepositioned in 32 locations. This is enough to feed 1.1 million people for six weeks.
A State Department Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) was sent to Haiti on November 2. The 11 newly added members joined 11 in place and have been stationed throughout the country to act in their roles of disaster assessment and aid coordination.
Stocks of supplies and food have been released in Les Cayes and the surrounding area and to the refugees evacuated from the Corail Cesselesse camp.
The USS Iwo Jima is on station off the southern coast of Haiti. It has been an integral part of the planning for hurricane assistance. It has a crew and passenger complement of 1,600 people, including about 200 medical personnel and a well equipped hospital, 60 Navy engineers (the famous SeaBees), uniformed personnel of the U.S. Public Health Service and a variety of specialists from several allied nations.
The Iwo Jima also has a 500 strong Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force, ten helicopters and two landing craft. The tasks for Iwo Jima will be aerial assessment of damage, rescue and possible transportation of supplies to areas cut off from road access.
The United States Coast Guard has also responded. Cutter Forward is on station conducting port assessment. Cutter Confidence is en route to provide additional assistance.
The cholera outbreak continues. The State Department reports that the Haitian Government has stated that there have been 501 deaths and 7,359 hospitalizations due to the illness.