Meet the USNS Comfort, Navy hospital ship that has treated thousands around the world

The U.S. Navy hospital ship that Hillary Clinton wants the Trump administration to send to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico has one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States.

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Hurricane Maria struck as a Category 4 storm, knocking out the power grid. Hospitals are flooded and back-up generators at many facilities have failed.

The 1,000-bed USNS Comfort is equipped to handle large-scale disasters. In 2010, the ship was sent to Haiti after a large earthquake killed more than 200,000 people. In 2005, the ship docked in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

In 2003, the 894-foot-long hospital ship spent 56 days in the Persian Gulf during the invasion of Iraq. The ship's doctors treated 700 people. Patients included wounded U.S. military members and Iraqi civilians, according to the U.S. Navy website.

The Comfort has a supply of 5,000 units of blood and is equipped with X-ray machines, CAT scan units, a dental office, an optometry facility, a physical therapy center and a pharmacy.

On Sunday, Clinton said in a tweet that President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis should send the Navy and the Comfort to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

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"These are American citizens," she said.

The storm killed 10 people on Puerto Rico, including two police officers who drowned in floodwaters in the western town of Aguada.

The death toll is expected to rise as reports from remote towns continue to trickle in to officials in San Juan.

Authorities in the town of Vega Alta on the north coast said they had been unable to reach an entire neighborhood, and were particularly worried about residents of a nursing home.

The north coastal town of Manatí has run out of fuel and fresh water, Mayor Jose Sanchez Gonzalez said.

"Hysteria is starting to spread. The hospital is about to collapse. It's at capacity," he said, crying. "We need someone to help us immediately."

Across Puerto Rico, more than 15,000 people were in shelters, including some 2,000 rescued from the north coastal town of Toa Baja.

The Comfort spent two months in Haiti in 2010 after the earthquake, treating more than 800 people.

The Navy said that at times during the Comfort’s presence off the coast of Port-au-Prince, some 1,300 medical staff from the U.S. military and nongovernmental organizations were on hand to treat the injured. The Comfort’s 10 operating rooms were staffed around the clock.

"We are immensely proud of the contributions made by everyone who helped treat critically injured survivors aboard Comfort," said U.S. Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command. "Their efforts saved the lives of many patients and helped everyone treated begin the important process of recovery. Their rapid response and contribution to the international relief efforts in Haiti helped the country overcome an urgent medical crisis at a time when access to surgical care on the ground was very limited."

In 2007, the hospital ship was enlisted for a four-month humanitarian mission in Latin America and the Caribbean.

It made stops in a dozen different countries, treating almost 100,000 people. It was billed as a goodwill mission, according to Reuters.

“This is part of the evolving mission of the Southern Command,” former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at the time. “These are the kinds of missions that we have in mind in connection with our new command, the Africa Command, to focus on building partnerships and increasing the capabilities of individual countries in being able to deal with these challenges.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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