August 31, 2005

U.S. warships, hospital ship join Katrina relief

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Wednesday added
navy ships, including two helicopter assault vessels and the
hospital ship Comfort, and elite search troops to a relief
effort in the wake of killer Hurricane Katrina.

The moves came as the Army Corps of Engineers also worked
to help civilian engineers close a major break in a protective
levee that has caused the flooding of most of New Orleans two
days after Katrina ripped ashore.

The Pentagon said about 8,200 National Guard troops have
been mobilized by state governors in Louisiana, Mississippi,
Alabama and Florida to take part in the relief effort, and
other states were planning to send additional troops and

Other states were planning to send additional troops and
equipment, according to Brad Swezey, a spokesman for the
National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon.

The military's Northern Command said the big Navy hospital
ship Comfort was preparing to depart Baltimore and the
helicopter carrier USS Bataan and another Navy ship were
already conducting helicopter rescue missions off the Louisiana
and Mississippi coast.

The USS Iwo Jima, another helicopter ship, was also
preparing to sail from Norfolk, Virginia, with three other
vessels and arrive in five days, the Navy said.

The Bataan and the Iowa Jima carry heavy MH-53 and HH-60
"medivac" (medical evacuation) and supply helicopters.

The Northern Command, which is coordinating help to the
Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, said 10 Air Force
and Army search and rescue helicopters were already in the area
or close and that the first of eight military "swift water"
rescue boats and teams were flown in from California overnight.