NORFOLK, Va. - The blowing of the horn, the loosening of the ropes and one last waive from the crew – the USS Arlington (LPD 24) is now underway. The massive Navy ship departed from Norfolk to join the disaster relief and recovery efforts in Haiti.
More than 600 military personnel boarded the ship Tuesday – Sailors, Marines, security forces and others.
Their mission is critical. Troops are racing to help a country in desperate need following Saturday’s catastrophic 7.2 magnitude earthquake that devastated part of Haiti’s southern peninsula.
The violent blow left hundreds dead, thousands injured and many more missing.
Haitian authorities raised the death toll from the earthquake to 1,941 on Monday.
Lt. Col. Cory Murtaugh, an ESG2 plans officer with the U.S. Marine Corps, started planning and executing the mission immediately after the quake hit.
“There’s the danger of just being able to respond in time,” Murtaugh said. “It's a heavily damaged area, and I think the need is going to be great. There are a lot of structural collapses. There's going to be a lot of recovery efforts for probably people trapped in buildings.”
The disaster hit at a time of crisis for the country that’s still reeling from a presidential assassination last month and cleaning up after Tropical Storm Grace rolled through the region Monday night continuing to drench it with heavy rain Tuesday.
COVID-19 is also a serious threat to people on the island.
At Naval Station Norfolk, crews loaded the vessel with food, water, COVID-19 vaccines, medical supplies and rescue equipment in less than 24 hours.
“To be able to get on the ground and provide immediate assistance to people that absolutely need it at a critical time when they're suffering, it's an honor to do it,” Murtaugh said.
Troops could be there as long as four months or more depending on the need.
“This is one of the most satisfying missions that we do because you get to see the immediate results of helping our friends and allies and just helping people,” said Murtaugh. “It's such a worthwhile and important mission. It's one of the most rewarding ones I've ever done.”
The disaster relief operation is part of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) whole-of-government effort, military officials said.
Arlington will join U.S. Southern Command Joint Task Force-Haiti who was stood up to coordinate the Department of Defense support to a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) deployed to Haiti on August 14.
The earthquake also injured 5,700 people and collapsed 700 buildings in Haiti. This is the second major earthquake that has struck Haiti in recent history, with the previous 7.0 magnitude earthquake occurring just over a decade ago.
Military officials said Arlington is a part of Expeditionary Strike Group 2 whose mission is to provide timely, operational, amphibious expertise in support of national tasking to sustain maritime security and defense of the nation.
While the ship was expected to arrive on Friday, Navy officials told News 3 it is still en route to the island.