USS Iwo Jima en route to help storm-ravaged Haiti

13News Now Mike Gooding has the story

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- Many people are still in desperate need for help in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew caused widespread devastation.

U.N. officials have said at least 1.4 million people across the region need assistance and that 2.1 million overall have been affected by Hurricane Matthew.

Some 175,000 people remain in shelters,  750,000 survivors are at risk of starvation or cholera. and, the National Civil Protection headquarters in Port-au-Prince raised the official nationwide death toll to 372.

Some news agencies have reported that more than 1,000 people have died.

But, help is on the way, in the form of the USS Iwo Jima, packed with 225 pallets of supplies and a contingent of 500 Marines from the Camp Lejeune-based 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

"The Marines and sailors  of the 24th Marine Expeditionary unit are excited to be able to go forward and render critical humanitarian disaster relief aid to this part of the world that is obviously in dire need," said  LCOL Christopher Hafer, commander of Combat Logistics Battalion.

The amphibious assault ship brings important skills including water purification, a 600-bed hospital, road building expertise and heavy lift aircraft.

"They bring capabilities that almost no one else has." said retired Navy captain and destroyer commanding officer Joe Bouchard. He said that although war-fighting remains job one for the military, helping others in need is also a crucial mission.

"And it gains tremendous benefit for the United States, for our relationships with those countries, and for our overall foreign policy," he said. "If we want to be a major influence in the Caribbean, it's good for the United States to be present when there's a disaster, using our vast resources to help people affected by it."

The Iwo Jima will relieve the Norfolk-based USS Mesa Verde, later this week. The Navy says the USS George Washington and the USNS Comfort have now been released from Matthew relief duties. The GW will continue training in the Atlantic, the Comfort will return to Norfolk on Friday.


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