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A U.S. Navy warship is bringing hundreds of Marines and sailors, along with power generators, water purifiers and bulldozers, to strengthen relief efforts in Haiti. The Caribbean country is where Hurricane Matthew has left at least 750,000 people desperately in need of assistance.
Capt. James Midkiff is the commander of the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima. He said the eight helicopters on the ship will ferry food and medical supplies for aid organizations upon arrival. The Iwo Jima can also provide medical help in Haiti. That is where hundreds have died. The injured languish unattended in hospitals as doctors warn of a surge in the disease cholera. Anger is rising in remote communities that still await aid.
The Iwo Jima is carrying more than 1,100 sailors and 600 Marines. With them, the number of U.S. military personnel in Haiti to provide relief will rise to about 2,500.
For the Marines and sailors, the plan is to "alleviate some of the suffering that is going on and prevent any additional loss of life," said Lt. Col. Christopher Hafer. He is the commanding officer of the Marines' Combat Logistics Battalion 24.
Matthew has officially left 473 people dead as of Oct. 11. That is according to the National Civil Protection headquarters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. But local officials in one southwestern region, Grand-Anse, said the death toll there alone tops 500.
The U.N. humanitarian agency in Geneva has made an emergency appeal for nearly $120 million in aid. About three-quarters of a million people in southwest Haiti alone will need "life-saving assistance and protection" in the next three months, the agency reported.
Midkiff said the Iwo Jima dodged Hurricane Matthew twice and Tropical Storm Nicole as it collected Marines and supplies. Then it headed for Haiti. The ship left its homeport in Mayport, Florida, as the base was being evacuated ahead of Matthew.
"It sounds like I'm making some of this stuff up," he said.
The Navy then directed the Iwo Jima to Norfolk, Virginia. It picked up some Marines, and then headed for Haiti.
Along the way, it encountered the outer bands of Matthew and then the swells from Nicole. The latter strengthened into a hurricane. The Iwo Jima also collected some Osprey aircraft and more Marines from the George Washington. The GW is an aircraft carrier whose orders to help out in the storm-hit Bahamas were canceled. The Iwo Jima will relieve the USS Mesa Verde. It is another ship that has been helping in Haiti but needs to prepare for a future deployment.
Matthew Estes is a 31-year-old Navy medic from Corryton, Tennessee. He said he's excited to help Haitian civilians who are "devastated down there."
"Before I left, I was nervous, anxious and overwhelmed with excitement," he said. "I'm doing the job that I want to do - that I joined to do."
He was an emergency medical technician in Tennessee as well as a landscaper before joining up.
"My wife was a little upset. But she understands the pick-up-and-go," he said. "She cried a little on the phone but then texted me and said this is what you joined to do, what you love to do."
Marine Lance Cpl. Shawn Durrell, 20, of Compton, California, said he expects to work hard.
"It's one of the biggest experiences of my life," he said. "Not only are we going to a different country, we're seeing what we can do. And we're here to help. One of the biggest things in life is to help."
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why are the marines traveling by ship instead of by air?
Write your answers in the comments section below