Navy Helps Along Gulf Coast
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One year ago the sailors of the USS Whidbey Island were in the Persian Gulf delivering and supplying Marines fighting in the Iraq War.
SPOKESMAN: Whidbey Island, stand. Post.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For the past week or so, crews on the Whidbey and sister ships have awakened to sunrises over Mississippi, and Louisiana. Each morning giant amphibious landing craft have disgorged hundreds of men and women onto beaches here. Cedric Pringle is the Whidbey Island’s commander.
COMMANDER CEDRIC PRINGLE, U.S. Navy: Our sailors are engaged in a variety of activities, primarily supporting some of the disaster relief shelters that are already established but they’re not limited to that. They’ve also been gainfully employed restoring and helping out city hall to clean that area out yesterday and help preserve some of the very valuable records that are kept there in the offices. Today, I had one of my sailors come up and tell me that they actually saved the lives of four stranded puppies.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Navy crews salvaged relics and cleared debris that was once a church. That enabled this Episcopal congregation to congregate again, the first of any steps to rebuild the community. Church buildings that survived have become clearing houses for the outpouring of sympathy and supplies.
SPOKESPERSON: Put four roles in a bag. Let me — I’ll go get some plastic bags.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Sailors were put to the daunting task of sorting them. At Biloxi High School sailors brought their culinary skills to the city’s main evacuation shelters.
About 100 miles east in the nearly empty city of New Orleans the main role of the visiting Navy has been to play host. The carrier Iwo Jima was overnight host to the president on Sunday. She and other ships have serviced and launched aircraft in search and rescue missions and in rebuilding infrastructure. The Iwo Jima is also emergency hospital, hotel and restaurant to scores of military and relief workers who have descended on the city.
Fermin Godinez is an emergency room physician.
LT. COMMANDER FERMIN GODINEZ, U.S. Navy: We are having folks come in that have just seen too much. They can get a meal; they can get a shower and talk to somebody and hopefully get a good night’s rest and not have the flashbacks when they blink their eyes.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The sailors themselves like Terry Jernigan have been moved by the distress they’ve witnessed on shore.
TERRY JERNIGAN: This hurricane hit home and we’re here to help and like I say, it’s very humbling and I’m glad to be a part of it. I was selected to be a driver and I got a chance to drive around and see the devastation that happened here and it just — it overwhelmed me.
COMMANDER MILT GIANULIS, Chaplain, U.S. Navy: When there’s a situation in America usually our death tolls are lower, our ability to respond is better and so on and so forth, so you don’t expect something. This was a crisis that nobody could really have prevented, in my opinion.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Whether the crisis response was timely or not may be vigorously debated but for their part Navy officials tout the speed at which the fleet was able to respond when called to their first major homeland mission with highly-motivated crews, said helicopter pilot Andrea Ragusa.
LT. ANDREA RAGUSA, Pilot, U.S. Navy: Every mission that we’ve done so far, whether it be on any of these other ships here going around the city, looking for survivors, going around the sea looking for anything else, everybody wants to be here and everybody wants to help.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Fulfilling a memorable as they found this mission, she says, they’re not looking for more. Disasters are never easy but they’re especially painful to witness at home.