USNS Comfort deploys for Puerto Rico

A U.S. Navy hospital ship is deploying to Puerto Rico to bring medical care to the hurricane-ravaged island.

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- The USNS Comfort is on its way to Puerto Rico.

The hospital ship left its homeport at Naval Station Norfolk shortly after 1 p.m. Friday, although people on board do not know what city or town they will arrive at first.

The Comfort departed with 522 medical personnel and support staff will join the ship as well as 70 service mariners. The ship will bring medical supplies, including blood, to Puerto Rico.

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Several family members waved goodbye to their loved ones who were traveling to help those affected by Hurricane Maria.

"I'm proud, I'm happy for her. This is what she signed up for," said a father in the crowd.

Captain Kevin Buckley said many people volunteered to help those in need.

"The energy, the smiles to help, it's really rewarding to see as a commanding officer," Buckley said.

The ship is a medical facility equipped with doctors, surgeons, pharmacists and supplies to last up to 30 days. The only thing the ship doesn't have is an MRI machine.

Buckley said, "I have a 50-bed ER capability on board the ship, and have the ability to store about 250 people and we will have about 50 ICU beds."

PHOTOS: USNS Comfort deploys to Puerto Rico for hurricane disaster relief

The Comfort will assist with other Navy personnel on land in Puerto Rico.

"If the patient has a wound and needs to go to the OR, five or six times over a week," he said, "we can keep them on board and do that."

The goal is to arrive in Puerto Rico in the next couple of days.

"We should be on the station by October 3rd. If we have to slow down a little bit, it will be the 4th of October at the latest," explained Captain Kevin Robinson.

The Comfort is the second of two Mercy-class hospital ships used by the Navy. A converted San Clemente-class supertanker, the Comfort joined the Navy's Military Sealift Command in December of 1987.

The ship's primary mission is to provide an afloat, mobile, acute surgical medical facility to the U.S. military that is flexible, capable and uniquely adaptable to support expeditionary warfare. Its secondary mission is to provide full hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.

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PHOTOS: Hurricane Maria's aftermath in the Caribbean

The Associated Press contributed to this report.