Navy hospital ship prepares for relief mission to Puerto Rico

The naval hospital ship USNS Comfort prepares to sail from Norfolk, Va., to Puerto Rico to help residents after Hurricane Maria. File Photo by Ryan Steinhour/U.S. Nav

Sept. 27 (UPI) — The U.S. Navy is preparing to send a relief and hospital ship to relief-starved, hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico, the ship’s commanding officer said.

The USNS Comfort is being stocked with supplies in Norfolk, Va., its home port, Capt. Kevin D. Buckley said — after President Donald Trump gave authorization to dispatch the ship.

The order came seven days after Hurricane Maria struck the island and its 3.4 million residents, leaving most without electricity.

“There’s a whole slew of equipment that has to be brought on board to accommodate the mission, primarily medical supplies,” said Bill Mesta, the ship’s spokesman.

Officials said the ship will be ready to sail on Friday. It has an onboard emergency room and 12 surgery rooms.

The orders came after increasing pressure on the Trump administration to accelerate rescue and relief efforts. As of Wednesday, 97 percent of the island, a U.S. territory, is still without power, and about half the population is without clean drinking water.

Mesta noted that without clean water, “Cholera is an issue.”

Gov. Ricardo Rossello called on Congress to authorize sending supplies and relief workers, and warned that the island faces a “humanitarian crisis.”

“To avoid that, recognize that we Puerto Ricans are American citizens. When we speak of a catastrophe, everyone must be treated equally.”

Rob Brinley, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said a plane normally used for intelligence missions has been stocked with 3,500 pounds of water, ready-to-eat Army meals and disposable diapers will travel from Miami to Puerto Rico Wednesday.

The hurricane killed 16 people. Two more died while in a San Juan hospital’s intensive care unit after the hospital ran out of diesel fuel to power generators, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said. Food and medical supplies remain scarce.

Hundreds of people remain stranded at San Juan’s airport, and flights depart only in the daylight because of the lack of power. Airlines have been accused of price-gouging in getting passengers to Miami and other destinations.

Trump has increased the level of federal funding for debris removal and emergency protective measures on the island. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for 180 days through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


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