Hurricane

Pentagon diverts 2 warships, Marine expeditionary unit for Hurricane Irma relief

This Pentagon handout photo shows a Navy air-cushioned landing craft entering the well deck of the USS Kearsarge in Norfolk, Va., on Aug. 30, 2017, as it was readied to assist with disaster relief efforts in Harvey’s aftermath. Tuesday, the Department of Defense said that instead of Harvey, the amphibious assault ship would be on standby to provide assistance to FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
This Pentagon handout photo shows a Navy air-cushioned landing craft entering the well deck of the USS Kearsarge in Norfolk, Va., on Aug. 30, 2017, as it was readied to assist with disaster relief efforts in Harvey’s aftermath. Tuesday, the Department of Defense said that instead of Harvey, the amphibious assault ship would be on standby to provide assistance to FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Two U.S. Navy ships, one with hundreds of Marines, are on standby in the Atlantic Ocean to help FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis “approved the use of USS Kearsarge and USS Oak Hill along with the Marine Corps to support FEMA response operations for Hurricane Irma,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said Tuesday.

It was, however, too early to know where the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge and the landing ship Oak Hill would go, what they would be used for or if they would be necessary.

But the designation meant the two Virginia-based ships along with 690 Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit would not be used to support domestic relief operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, as previously planned.

The Navy said last month that the Kearsarge and Oak Hill were “leaning forward to fully support FEMA and Texas” in the aftermath of Harvey. The Marines said the MEU has both light- and heavy-lift “aviation and lift capabilities,” with eight Ospreys, three Super Stallions and a Huey helicopter. They can assist in water purification efforts, engineering, aerial reconnaissance and aid distribution.

Marine Capt. Natalie Poggemeyer said Wednesday morning the Irma role would still provide “defense support of civil authorities,” such as FEMA, but their exact use was yet to be decided.

Babb also said the Pentagon had made a list of “possible installation support bases used for pre-positioning equipment and supplies,” essentially locations to put relief supplies if shipments elsewhere are required. “But these locations will depend on the track that Hurricane Irma takes.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

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