2 Navy Ships Ready Off Gulf Coast For Potential Hurricane Nate Relief

The amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21) departs Naval Station Mayport to provide relief efforts to the Gulf Coast region in anticipation of Hurricane Nathan, Oct. 7, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo/Michael Lopez)
The amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21) departs Naval Station Mayport to provide relief efforts to the Gulf Coast region in anticipation of Hurricane Nathan, Oct. 7, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo/Michael Lopez)

The Navy moved in two ships behind Hurricane Nate along the Gulf Coast over the weekend but the main military response to a succession of major storms remained in Puerto Rico, where there was more political fallout over the pace of the response.

Hurricane Nate made landfall at about 8 p.m. local time at the mouth of the Mississippi River and again at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning near Biloxi, Mississippi, as a Category 1 storm with sustained winds of 85 mph.

By Sunday afternoon, Nate had weakened to a tropical depression with sustained winds of 35 mph as it moved inland over Mississippi and Alabama, the National Hurricane Center said.

More than 70,000 in Alabama and 30,000 in Mississippi were without power Sunday in the storm surge and flooding but the region appeared to have been spared the kind of catastrophic damage that Texas, Florida and the Caribbean suffered in the recent series of hurricanes. New Orleans, which had feared a major hit, on Sunday lifted a curfew that had been in effect over the weekend.

"We are very fortunate this morning and have been blessed," Gov. Phil Bryant, R-Mississippi, said while noting that there had been damage to homes primarily from the storm surge produced by Nate.

On Saturday, the amphibious dock ship Iwo Jima and the transport dock New York -- both with Marines aboard from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, left port in Mayport, Florida, to be in position behind Nate if they were needed.

U.S. Northern Command, which was coordinating the military response with the Federal Emergency Management Agency along the Gulf Coast, as well as in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, set up an Installation Support Base at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, over the weekend to stage supplies and personnel as Nate arrived.

The Defense Department also readied relief for states potentially impacted by Nate by putting on standby a search and rescue package of light, medium and heavy-lift helicopters, an Air Expeditionary Group (for support operations), and an E-3 Airborne Early Warning and Control System along with trucks and general purpose boats, NorthCom said.

In Puerto Rico, the hospital ship USNS Comfort on Saturday coordinated a medical evacuation after a generator failed at Hospital Menonita in Caguas in the central mountainous area of the island that has been the most isolated since Hurricane Maria hit on Sept. 20, NorthCom said.

Early Sunday, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz renewed her feud with the Trump administration and FEMA over the pace and scope of the relief effort.

"Power collapses in San Juan hospital with 4 patients now being transferred out. Have requested support from FEMA. NOTHING," Yulin Cruz said in a Tweet.

In another Tweet, Yulin Cruz said "Increasingly painful to understand the American people want to help and US Gov does not want to help. WE NEED WATER!"

FEMA Administrator Brock Long dismissed her complaints. On ABC-TV's "This Week" program, Long said "We filtered out the mayor a long time ago. We don't have time for the political noise. The bottom line is, is that we are making progress every day," he said.

President Donald Trump joined in renewing the administration's criticism of Yulin Cruz, saying she "really did not do a very good job, in fact did a very poor job" in coordinating relief.

In an interview Saturday night with former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Arkansas, on the Christian network Trinity Broadcasting, Trump also defended his casual flipping of paper towels to Puerto Ricans during his visit to the island last Tuesday.

"They had these beautiful, soft towels. Very good towels," Trump said of the incident in San Juan. "And I came in and there was a crowd of a lot of people. And they were screaming and they were loving everything. I was having fun, they were having fun," he said. "They said, 'Throw 'em to me! Throw 'em to me, Mr. President."

Hurricane Maria knocked out Puerto Rico's power grid, and keeping generators fueled and running at the island's 69 hospitals has been a continuing problem.

The Comfort, which moored in San Juan last week, has been working its way counter-clockwise around the island enroute to Ponce on the southern coast and was taking on patients and providing assistance along the way. The ship was expected to arrive Sunday off Aguadilla on the island's northwestern tip.

Eight Marine MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft were expected to arrive in Aguadilla Sunday to support relief operations, NorthCom said, to bring the total number of rotary aircraft involved in the response to 58.

As of Sunday, the Comfort, which has more than 200 hospital beds and 500 medical personnel on board, had treated 78 patients ranging in age from six months to 89 years, NorthCom said.

On Saturday, DoD supplied more than 162,000 gallons of bulk water, 44,000 gallons of bulk fuel, and 1.5 million meals to Regional Support Centers throughout the island, NorthCom said.

To date, approximately 7.5 million meals, 6 million liters of water and 294 generators have been delivered to Puerto Rico in support of FEMA and local officials, NorthCom said.

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

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