A building in Les Cayes, Haiti, lies in ruins Tuesday, three days after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake and one day after Tropical Storm Grace swept over the island. (Fernando Llano/AP)
A soldier walks over earthquake rubble Tuesday, the morning after Tropical Storm Grace swept over Les Cayes, Haiti. (Fernando Llano/AP)
Service members with Joint Task Force-Bravo out of Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, prepare to depart for Haiti Aug. 15 in support of disaster relief efforts. Assets with the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, JTF-Bravo, will provide heavy and medium lift to support the USAID-led mission. (Capt Annabel Monroe/Air Force)
U.S. Southern Command has established Joint Task Force-Haiti to conduct U.S. military operations in support of the USAID-led foreign disaster assistance mission. The team is coordinating with USAID, the government of Haiti, other international partners and non-governmental organizations to provide relief, as requested by their government.
“The role of U.S. military forces during this disaster relief support mission is to rapidly respond with critically needed capabilities to deliver assistance and aid to areas the government of Haiti deems most necessary,” according to a SOUTHCOM news release.
Two U.S. Coast Guard cutters are on station and two of the service’s HH-60 Jayhawks are medically evacuating seriously wounded Haitians. according to U.S. Southern Command. The helicopter crews, forward deployed from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Florida, had completed three sorties and medically evacuated 15 Haitians by Monday, according to a SOUTHCOM update.
Additionally, Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft are collecting aerial images of areas damaged from the earthquake and a 14-person team from Special Operations Command South arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince Sunday to help assess the damage, SOUTHCOM said.
The military is also directing three UH-60 Black Hawks, three CH-47 Chinooks, and two HH-60 Pave Hawks from Joint Task Force-Bravo in Honduras to fly to Haiti to provide USAID with critical air support, SOUTHCOM said. Those helicopters are slated to arrive Wednesday.
In addition, a Navy littoral combat ship and seven more Coast Guard cutters are en route, SOUTHCOM said.
“In support of disaster relief, U.S. Southern Command has been working since Saturday morning with the interagency to assess the situation and provide support in the wake of the earthquake,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Monday.
“The Navy is aiding with unmanned and manned aircraft to provide aerial images of earthquake devastation,” Kirby said. “Those images will be used to help determine what relief capabilities are needed, where and when. U.S. Coast Guard helicopters and aircrews are transporting medical personnel and evacuating those requiring higher levels of care.”
Officials said the magnitude 7.2 earthquake on Saturday left more than 7,000 homes destroyed and nearly 5,000 damaged from the quake, leaving some 30,000 families homeless. In its most recent update, the Civil Protection Agency said the death toll from the earthquake now stands at 1,419 and another 6,000 or so Haitians have been injured, many of whom have had to wait for medical help lying outside in wilting heat.
Hospitals, schools, offices and churches were also destroyed or badly damaged.
Some towns in southwest Haiti were almost totally destroyed in the quake, the latest disaster to befall the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Haitians already were struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, gang violence, worsening poverty and the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
On Monday, Tropical Storm Grace swept over Haiti with drenching rain. The storm’s rain and wind raised the threat of mudslides and flash flooding as it slowly passed by southwestern Haiti’s Tiburon Peninsula overnight, before heading toward Jamaica and southeastern Cuba Tuesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.