The Navy is gearing up to send a serious disaster-relief package to the Caribbean as Hurricane Matthew bears down on the region.
A Navy official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed to Military.com that the carrier George Washington, the amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde, and the hospital ship Comfort were all preparing to deploy from the East Coast to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as the storm bears down on the region. News of the pending deployment was first reported by Navy Times.
Cmdr. Dave Hecht, a spokesman for Navy Region Atlantic, said the George Washington was departing Norfolk, Virginia, today to be in position in the event the ship's capacity is needed after the storm. But counter to some reports, he said the carrier's deployment was a U.S. initiative, not done at the request of the Haitian government.
"No country or region has requested our assistance," he said.
The Mesa Verde will have a Marine unit aboard: an engineering element from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Southern Command, a small task force that deploys to Central America during the region's six-month hurricane season for partner training and humanitarian storm aid as needed. For the unit, which first deployed last May, this will be a first opportunity to respond to a major hurricane in the region.
The George Washington and the Mesa Verde will both deploy with medium- and heavy-lift rotorcraft aboard, the Navy official said. The ships will also carry humanitarian aid and disaster relief packages.
"They'll assess the damage and react accordingly," the official said.
The trajectory and power of Hurricane Matthew are raising alarms through Central America and up the East Coast. Military families and nonessential personnel were evacuated from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Saturday as the storm approached the island.
The storm made landfall in Haiti on Tuesday with 145 mile-per-hour winds, killing at least one, according to multiple media reports.
The U.S. military last provided major humanitarian aid to Haiti in 2010, when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake left more than 100,000 dead.
That effort, Operation Unified Response, involved two Marine expeditionary units; the carrier Carl Vinson and other Navy ships; Coast Guard cutters; Air Force special operations and National Guard assets; and Army ground units.
-- Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify the ships' destination.