Coast Guard and Navy sending ships, aircraft to quake scene

By Jennifer Grogan, The Day, New London, Conn.

Jan. 14–The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Forward arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, early Wednesday and discovered collapsed piers in the harbor, destroyed buildings and oil in the water.

The cutter was the first American ship to reach Haiti.

“It’s hard to look out in this harbor and see a building that hasn’t been affected,” Cmdr. Diane W. Durham, commanding officer of the Forward, said in a conference call with reporters. “From the waterfront up the hills to the larger buildings … everybody in this city has been hit. “

Durham said Haitian officials told her that half of the 80 members of the Haitian coast guard stationed at the port had been killed.

The Forward’s crew began providing air traffic control for other military planes and helicopters since the earthquake knocked out the control tower at the airport.

The Coast Guard sent three other cutters — the Valiant, from Miami, the Tahoma, from Portsmouth, N.H., and the Mohawk, from Key West, Fla.- to join the Forward, which is homeported in Portsmouth, Va.

The channel leading to the port did not appear to be obstructed but there is no easy way to land rescue supplies from ships, Durham said in the call.

“One of the Coast Guard’s top priorities is ensuring that there are aids to navigation marking the port so relief vessels can get into the port safely and offload supplies,” said Lt. Cmdr. Rob Wyman, Coast Guard Atlantic Area spokesman. “We’re also focused on emergent rescue needs, working with other agencies and standing by to do anything else we can to help.”

Coast Guard aircraft flew over Haiti Wednesday to assess the damage and to try to identify locations where it appeared people needed help.

A Coast Guard helicopter evacuated four critically injured U.S. Embassy staff to the naval station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for treatment at the medical facilities there.

The U.S. Navy also began sending ships to the area in case they were needed for humanitarian assistance or disaster response missions.

An aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, was on its way from Norfolk, Va., to its new homeport in San Diego on Tuesday. The ship was ordered to prepare equipment and supplies and proceed to Haiti instead, said Lt. Cmdr. Philip Rosi, media officer at U.S. Fleet Forces Command. It is expected to arrive off the coast of Haiti today.

Submarines are not currently participating in the relief effort, Rosi said, but amphibious dock landing ships, a cruiser and a frigate are headed to Haiti. Most of these ships are based in Norfolk.

The Navy hospital ship, USNS Comfort, is preparing to go to Haiti if needed, Rosi added.

The U.S. Southern Command is sending a team of military engineers, planners, a command and control group and communication specialists to Haiti, and the Air Force sent airmen to the airport at Port-au-Prince to help with air traffic control and airfield operations.

j.grogan@theday.com

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