Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to News

Norfolk sailors return from aiding Haiti hurricane victims

Norfolk sailors return from aiding Haiti hurricane victims
By Courtney Mabeus
The Virginian-Pilot

As she surveyed the damage above western Haiti from her Navy helicopter earlier this month, Lt. Jessica Hayter said some cities looked more like shanty towns after Hurricane Matthew ravaged the poor Caribbean country.

“Almost none of them have roofs anymore,” Hayter, a pilot with the Norfolk-based Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28, recalled Monday about the time she spent helping deliver emergency supplies into the country. “Honestly, my first thought was, ‘Wow.’ Just, ‘Wow.’ ”

Hayter was among hundreds of Navy personnel, including Seabees from the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, who assisted in relief efforts from the Jacksonville, Fla.-based amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima at the request of the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Iwo Jima arrived in Norfolk on Monday, five days after the military’s mission ended.

It replaced the much smaller Norfolk-based amphibious landing dock USS Mesa Verde, which left Norfolk along with the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and hospital ship USNS Comfort as Matthew battered Haiti on Oct. 4. Neither the Comfort nor the George Washington received the call to help with aid efforts. Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., and an Army unit from Fort Eustis also assisted.

The Iwo Jima is expected to leave for its homeport today.

The category 4 storm killed more than 500 in Haiti and left more than 1.4 million others in need of assistance. Haiti was still recovering from a devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless, according to the United Nations.
Rear Adm. Roy Kitchener, commander of the Virginia Beach-based Expeditionary Strike Group 2, led the later part of the military’s hurricane-relief efforts, which concluded with a little more than 600,000 pounds of supplies delivered.

Kitchener said aid organizations already working in the country and infrastructure that was already in place helped speed response.

He said they were able to use an airport and “set up a headquarters there with some other helicopters that flew in from Honduras, which kind of doubled our ability to move things quickly.”

Kitchener added the Navy’s everyday warfighting mission and training translates easily to emergency humanitarian response.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Erin Williams said she saw gratitude amid the devastation. Haitians helped form assembly lines to unload supplies being delivered by the Norfolk-based Sikorsky MH-60 S Seahawks, she said.

“You get used to people kind of complaining about normal everyday things, and there’s people down there that are excited to receive food and water and shelter,” Williams said. Courtney Mabeus, 757-446-2277, [email protected]

  • Posted in: