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American Forces Press Service

USNS Comfort Arrives in Port-au-Prince

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 20, 2010 – Haitian patients began arriving on the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort even as the ship approached its anchorage this morning.

As the ship approached shore in the capital city here, sailors aboard the Comfort felt the magnitude 6.1 aftershock. The jolt collapsed a pier in Port-au-Prince that medical planners were hoping to use as an evacuation point for injured Haitians.

The Comfort already had people on the beach to work out landing zones, and Navy Seahawk helicopters began bringing casualties of the Haitian earthquake to the ship at about 9 a.m. The first group of casualties came from the USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier with a full surgical suite.

The Comfort is in Haiti for relief efforts in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 magnitude 7 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince.

Comfort medics set up a process with litter bearers meeting each aircraft and taking the patients to casualty receiving where doctors, nurses and corpsmen performed tests, took X-rays and assessed patient needs. The patients then were moved to the appropriate level of care -- some directly to operating rooms, others to the intensive care unit, or testing.

Patient admission clerks ensured that all relevant records were filled out so that test results and care programs would follow the correct person.

Even as patients began receiving treatment, more Creole-speaking sailors joined the ship. Communication is vital for good medicine, doctors here say, and the Creole-speakers -- many from Port-au-Prince -- are invaluable.

The crew still is working to make more space aboard the vessel. They moved exercise equipment out of a gym and are opening more wards. Berthing aboard the vessel is going to get very tight as more than 350 more medical specialists and support personnel join the more than 750 already aboard.

Media interest in the mission of the Comfort also is rising, as many reporters are asking to cover stories on the vessel.

The Comfort left Baltimore Harbor, Md., on Jan. 16 – just four days after receiving the orders. The vessel is normally kept in a “cold” condition with a caretaker crew. The water is turned off around the ship, the galley is closed, wards are stashed and equipment stockpiled off the vessel.

The Navy called up sailors from around the United States to man the ship, and the Military Sealift Command had to call up civilian mariners. Many crewmembers received a day’s notice before reporting.

Ordering and receiving medical equipment, placing it aboard, assigning berthing, starting up the dining facility – all was done on the fly and by a scratch group.

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