The US military on Friday deployed the USNS Comfort hospital ship to assist with FEMA’s response efforts in Puerto Rico a week after Hurricane Maria smashed the island as a Category 4 storm, the U.S. Department of Defense said.
The Comfort is a seagoing medical treatment facility “capable of providing resuscitation and stabilization care; initial wound and basic surgery; and postoperative treatment,” according to the US Navy.
The ship, which has a capacity of up to 1,000 beds, maintains 5,000 units of blood, is equipped with four X-ray machines and a CAT scan unit, among other things, KTLA sister station WTKR in Norfolk, Virginia, reported.
Puerto Rican officials asked for additional medical assistance from the ship after initially indicating that they wanted to focus on getting power restored to damaged hospitals on shore, US officials told CNN.
The crew is expected to grow to as many 60 and the medical crew could increase from the approximately 65 now with the ship to as many as 1,200, according to officials.
The Navy hospital ship is just one part of the military’s humanitarian assistance effort — deploying assets to both Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands after the storm decimated critical infrastructure in the region.
The USS Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group has already been conducting rescue operations in the region, including eight medical evacuations and 148 airlifts, and delivered 44,177 pounds of relief supplies and cargo to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands since Maria struck, according to the Pentagon.
The US Air Force is also sending additional aircraft to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to ramp up the volume of daily relief missions.
Speaking on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said the priority is making sure airfields can operate.
“The responsibility is primarily DHS, but at this point, we’re not trapped in bureaucratic niceties, what we’re trying to do is make sure that we get the people of Puerto Rico the support they need when they need it,” he said.
“All the other support they need can’t come in until we get the ports and airfields open, so that’s why Northern Command has placed that at the top of the list in terms of the support we’re providing,” he added.
Dunford said he expects more military aircraft will be used particularly for “generators, water, food, those kinds of immediate needs.”