The military is in a holding pattern as it monitors Hurricane Matthew’s track through the Caribbean, inching its way toward the U.S. mainland.
Navy officials said the mighty U.S. East Coast fleet is at a heightened state of readiness in case it needs to scamper out to sea, but that no order has been given to sortie. A hefty emergency aid package — including a hospital ship, the carrier George Washington and dozens of Navy and Marine helicopters — is also on standby as Haitian officials assess the country’s needs.
The Air Force is preparing for the storm. It has evacuated some aircraft, including C-130s and HH-60 Pave Hawks from Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, said Air Force spokeswoman Erika Yepson. Other installations were revving up to provide relief efforts as needed, she said.
“Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, is being prepared as a support staging area for relief supplies, personnel and other resources,” Yepson said. “The Air Force is also posturing to provide air traffic control support to the [Federal Aviation Administration] and ensure medical units are ready to support as needed.”
The storm made landfall in Haiti early Tuesday morning, slamming the country with 145-mile-per-hour winds and heavy rainfall. The full extent of the damage and what, if any, U.S. aid would be needed was still being assessed Wednesday morning.
So far about 10,000 people have been displaced by the storm and are living in shelters in Haiti, and flooded roads and debris have hampered emergency aid efforts there, according to a BBC report Wednesday.
About 100 troops and nine helicopters were moved from Honduras to Grand Cayman to provide storm relief if called upon. Those forces, arrayed about 600 miles West of Haiti south of Cuba, are still awaiting tasking.
Initial reports from the Navy installation at Guantanamo Bay were positive — no critical infrastructure was damaged according to early assessments, a SOUTHCOM spokesman said.
Matthew is expected to track close to eastern seaboard and will likely be close to the coast of Florida by Thursday evening. The storm has been downgraded to a Category 3 storm with maximum winds reaching 115 mph, according to a Wednesday morning advisory.