The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and three other ships were ordered to get underway Friday to provide assistance in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which is expected to hit Florida this weekend.
That group’s arrival will bring the number of Navy vessels assisting in the region to seven ships.
Fleet Forces Command commander Adm. Phil Davidson has ordered the carrier, as well as the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, the amphibious transport dock ship New York and the destroyer Farragut, to get into position to provide humanitarian relief if requested by state and federal authorities in Irma’s wake, according to a Navy statement.
The Farragut was already underway conducting local operations, officials said.
Iwo Jima and New York are Mayport, Fla.-based ships and arrived in Norfolk early Thursday to onload relief supplies and hundreds of Marines.
Lincoln was also underway and was scheduled to conduct F-35C flight operations, something the carrier’s recent four-year overhaul prepared her to do. But Irma changed those plans. Her underway period was cut short and she, too, returned to port Thursday morning to also prepare to get back to sea and be ready for relief operations.
Already in the region are the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge and the dock landing ship Oak Hill, which steamed there to provide assistance after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana late last month.
No tasking came through for those ships from Northern Command after Harvey, but with Irma and another hurricane, Jose, right behind Irma, Navy officials said they anticipate being busy in the coming weeks.
The amphibious assault ship Wasp arrived in the U.S. Virgin Islands Thursday to assist with the aftermath of Irma there.
The Iwo Jima and New York departed Mayport, Fla., Tuesday to pick up more than 300 Marines and sailors with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and II Marine Expeditionary Force from Norfolk, Va.
So far, helicopters from the Wasp have conducted six search and rescue missions and moved 21 critical care patients from St. Thomas to St. Croix, according to U.S. Northern Command. Another 23 patients are expected to be evacuated on Friday.
The Kearsarge and Oak Hill are headed to the region and will launch their aircraft for search and rescue missions once the ships are north of St. Croix, NORTHCOM announced on Friday.
The ships will be able to provide medical support, maritime civil affairs and security, logistics support, medium and heavy lift air support, as well as other capabilities, according to the Navy release.
They will also provide vital aircraft, including three CH-53E Marine heavy lift helicopters, 10 MH-60s and 14 MH-60R medium lift helicopters.
“The top priority of the federal government, as we work together to support civil authorities, is to minimize suffering and protect the lives and safety of those affected by Hurricane Irma,” the Navy release said.
As Houston continues to dry out after Harvey, Irma was a category 4 storm as of Friday afternoon, and is expected to make landfall on Florida’s southern tip Sunday morning before working its way up nearly the entire state and into Georgia, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Florida officials are warning the storm is much larger than Andrew, which bombarded the state in 1992.
Staff Writer Mark D. Faram contributed to this report