Marines Go Ashore for Hurricane Relief in Devastated Haiti

A man salvages personal items from his home destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Oct. 6, 2016. Authorities and aid workers fear it is the country's biggest disaster in years. Dieu Nalio Chery/AP
A man salvages personal items from his home destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Oct. 6, 2016. Authorities and aid workers fear it is the country's biggest disaster in years. Dieu Nalio Chery/AP

About 375 Marines and sailors from the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde went ashore Monday delivering tons of aid and medical supplies to devastated Haiti, where cholera is spreading in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, U.S. Southern Command said Monday.

The Mesa Verde is part of Joint Task Force-Matthew, the relief operation that formed as Hurricane Matthew grew to a Category 4 storm in the Caribbean. As of Monday, the task force had delivered more than 98,000 pounds of relief supplies to hard-hit areas of Haiti, SouthCom said.

Haitian authorities have put the death toll from Matthew at more than 300, but an analysis by Reuters said the toll will likely top 1,000.

Matthew hit hardest on Haiti’s southern peninsula, which juts westward into the Caribbean, and the relief efforts thus far are concentrating on the towns of Les Cayes and Jeremie, said Jose Ruiz, a SouthCom spokesman.

"Along the southern region, you get most of the devastation," he said.

Roads were still flooded and blocked by debris from Matthew, making airlift the only method of reaching some areas, Ruiz said.

The amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima is en route from Norfolk, Virginia, to join the relief operation. "We expect the Iwo to arrive Oct. 11" to provide more airlift and medical support, Ruiz said. The Iwo Jima has MV-22 Ospreys and 500 members of the 24th Expeditionary Unit aboard.

The Mesa Verde has three CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, one landing craft and 300 members of the 24th MEU aboard.

Before leaving Norfolk, the Iwo Jima took on nearly 225 pallets of supplies, including 800 cases of bottled water, to help in the aftermath of one of the largest storms to hit the area in years.

"We are prepared and honored to have the opportunity to help out our friends and neighbors in the western hemisphere," said Capt. James Midkiff, commanding officer of the Iwo Jima.

Joint Task Force-Matthew has about 12 helicopters operating out of the capital of Port-au-Prince. Nine of those helicopters, including Army CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Black Hawks, came from a task force set up by Adm. Kurt Tidd, the SouthCom commander, at the Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras to be on call for disaster relief in the Caribbean, Ruiz said.

On Oct. 5, SouthCom established Joint Task Force-Matthew to oversee U.S. military relief efforts in Haiti. The task force was deployed in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance following a request for U.S. assistance from the Haitian government.

Over the last several years, SouthCom has provided disaster assistance to Haiti to help the Caribbean nation in emergencies, such as the massive earthquake in 2010.

The relief work has included the construction of emergency operations centers, disaster relief warehouses, fire stations and community centers that double as shelters. The command has also donated search and rescue boats, as well as transport vehicles to Haitian emergency response and civil protection agencies.

Relief workers were alarmed by a resurgence of cholera, which has killed an estimated 10,000 Haitians and sickened more than 800,000 since the 2010 earthquake. Officials with Doctors Without Borders said they counted at least 39 cases of cholera in Port-à-Piment, where people have been forced to drink untreated river water because the city's water system was destroyed, USA Today reported.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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