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Wasp Prepares for Possible Call to Provide Assistance After Felix

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070905-17
Release Date: 9/5/2007 9:45:00 PM


By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Barrie Barber, U.S. Fleet Forces Command Public Affairs

PANAMA CITY, Panama (NNS) -- USS Wasp (LHD 1) is on standby to sail to the coast of Nicaragua if needed to begin humanitarian relief for those affected by Hurricane Felix on Sept. 4.

Wasp served as the lead vessel in Fuerzas Alidas (FA) PANAMAX 2007, a U.S. Southern Command joint and multinational exercise Aug. 29 through Sept. 7 that will continue despite the warship’s departure, U.S. Army Col. Bill Costello, command director of public affairs, said during a press conference on Sept. 5.

Air crews aboard the ship in the Caribbean Sea would overfly the country to determine the extent of damage and those in need, Costello said, then U.S. officials would decide what action to take.

“Any follow-on relief efforts can be sent to the right location at the right time,” Costello said. “The intent is to bring relief to people who need it quickly and effectively.”

The 844-foot-long amphibious assault ship can handle up to 600 patients. It has MH-60 Seahawk and MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters to aid those affected by the Category 5 storm, which roared ashore with winds of 160 mph.

“U.S. support is already en route,” Costello said.

On Sept. 5, a Joint Task Force Bravo nine-member team skilled in engineering, communications and medicine traveled aboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, to assess damage where the hurricane made landfall. JTF-Bravo, a Southern Command unit, is based at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras.

U.S. Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, commander, U.S. Southern Command, sent the team to the disaster area after a request for international assistance from the government of Nicaragua. The command coordinated its response with the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

A CH-47 Chinook assigned to 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation regiment flew to Roatan Island off the Honduran coast Sept. 3 to pick up 19 U.S. citizens who had been vacationing there prior the hurricane’s landfall.

Wasp returned Sept. 5 to Panama to allow multinational personnel embarked for the exercise to depart, Costello said.

Nineteen countries are participating in FA PANAMAX 2007, a civil and military exercise in cooperation with the government of Panama to ensure the continued security of the Panama Canal and peace and prosperity in the region.

PANAMAX is the largest multinational naval exercise in the Western Hemisphere this year with more than 30 ships, a dozen aircraft and 7,000 personnel. The exercise started in 2003 with Chile, Panama and the United States.

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