United States Marine Corps helicopters took off from Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport Wednesday, headed to Jamaica to be ready to move disaster relief supplies into Haiti.
Four large U.S. military helicopters landed on Grand Cayman Tuesday, the first of two waves of Marines and U.S. Army personnel, expected to total about 100, passing through the Cayman Islands to help on storm-ravaged Hispaniola.
The second wave of five helicopters arrived Wednesday afternoon en route to disaster relief operations in Haiti.
Marine Corps and Army personnel unloaded equipment on the tarmac at Owen Roberts on Tuesday and prepared their aircraft for the next leg of the trip as they awaited orders to start moving supplies into Haiti.
Marine Col. Tom Prentice, in an interview with the Cayman Compass at the airport, said, “One of our missions is to be able to respond to natural disasters.” He said they were based in Honduras and had been on alert to respond with disaster relief for Hurricane Matthew since the storm began making its way across the Caribbean last week.
Matthew continues north
Hurricane Matthew continued to move north Wednesday, bringing torrential rains and damaging winds to the Bahamas and heading toward the southeast coast of the United States.
The massive storm battered Haiti and Cuba early this week, destroying buildings and blamed for at least 11 deaths.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Matthew was a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph, moving northwest at 12 mph. Hurricane warnings are in effect for most of the Bahamas and parts of Florida.
According to the U.S. National Hurricane Center: “Some strengthening is forecast during the next couple of days, and Matthew is expected to remain at category 3 or stronger while it moves through the Bahamas and approaches the east coast of Florida.”
Matthew, then a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph, passed over Hispaniola and brought 3 to 4 feet of rain to much of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The storm was still a Category 4 when it passed over rural eastern Cuba, where photographs show extensive damage in Baracoa from heavy winds and storm surge.
Fidele Nicolas, a Haitian civil protection official, told the Associated Press, “It’s the worst hurricane that I’ve seen during my life. It destroyed schools, roads, other structures.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the worst of the storm had moved out of Haiti but rain was still falling on Cuba as the storm moved into the Bahamas.
The U.S. Navy sent the aircraft carrier USS George Washington to sea, positioning the ship to head south to help with relief operations, according to U.S. military news sources. The U.S. Navy also plans to send a hospital ship and a warship that will serve as a landing platform.
Cayman starts collecting supplies
Matthew Leslie of the Cayman Islands Brewery is organizing an effort to collect supplies to be airlifted to Haiti. Mr. Leslie said he met with U.S. military personnel here and they said they would help get any supplies sent from Cayman into the right hands.
“We need to count our blessings,” Mr. Leslie said. “That could have easily been us.”
Mr. Leslie said he has contacts on the ground in Haiti and that they have sufficient water, but they need batteries, candles, matches, hygiene products and baby supplies. He said they also need soap, diapers and baby formula.
He said he is working with government to try and arrange a relief flight to bring supplies. He said anyone who wants to help with supplies can send him a message by text or WhatsApp at 917-3027.
According to the AP, many roads in Haiti are impassable and a key bridge was washed out in the south of the country.
Haitian news outlets reported more than 14,500 people have been displaced. As many as 50,000 people in the country were still living in temporary camps from the 2010 earthquake.