Naval Aviation responds to Hurricane Katrina.
On the afternoon of the storm, NAS JRB New Orleans' emergency management team quickly moved into action to clear the runways and repair the control tower. Within four hours, flight operations began when the first Coast Guard HH-65 landed at the JRB to start relief operations. The Coast Guard had also prepositioned rescue helos to Shreveport, La., and other aviation assets in staging areas near the threatened area in advance of the storm. By 5 September, the Coast Guard had 43 helicopters and 8 fixed wing aircraft conducting operations in the region.
Other area Navy stations became critical to relief efforts. NAS Pensacola, Fla., was the base for over 30 Navy and Marine aircraft involved in the operation. NAS Meridian, Miss., served as a major distribution center for supply trucks being sent to the Gulf Coast with water, MREs, ice, and other vital supplies. The air station also received and housed over 1,000 evacuees.
Bataan (LHD 5) was already operating in the region as the storm approached. She steamed westward to embark four MH-53s from HM-15 based at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, which joined two MH-60s from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28 already on board. Late in the afternoon of 30 August these helos began search and rescue operations in the vicinity of New Orleans.
The Navy soon sent assets from the Norfolk, Va., area, including three amphibious ships: Iwo Jima (LHD 7), Shreveport (LSD 46), and Tortuga (LSD 46). On 4 September, Iwo Jima moored pierside in downtown New Orleans and became a hub for military and civilian helicopter activity in the heart of the city. The amphib became the HQ for Joint Task Force Katrina led by Army Lt. Gen Russell Honore.
Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) also deployed to the area along with Whidbey Island (LSD 41) on 1 September. Truman embarked elements of 13 Navy helicopter squadrons and by deploying close to the disaster area, shortened the mission time for operations that had previously been flown from Pensacola. The carrier also provided support to NAS JRB New Orleans in the form of aviation boatswain's mates and cooks to keep that vital station in operation.
The demand for aircraft, particularly helicopters, led to the deployment of aircraft from across the services and the country. Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Light (HSL) 43, HSL-47, and HSL-49, and HSC-21 arrived from NAS North Island, Calif., with their MH-60 Seahawks. Three Marine squadrons from MCAS New River, N.C., sent six CH-53E Super Stallions and two CH-46E Sea Knights, and Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 772, a reserve squadron from Willow Grove, Pa., sent four more Super Stallions. The Army's III Corps and two Air Force rescue wings contributed over 30 helos as well. Naval Aviation units also provided key logistical support; Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VR) 57 and VR-58 moved in Seabees and HSL crewmen; evacuated hundreds of citizens; and transported tons of supplies. At the height of operations, the various elements of the Department of Defense had more than 350 helicopters and over 70 fixed wing aircraft involved in Katrina relief efforts.
The readiness of Naval Aviation assets, both active and reserve, to respond to a disaster of this magnitude is reflected in the accompanying images. Naval Aviation assets continue to provide vital assistance to the areas of the Gulf Coast ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and also by Hurricane Rita, which made landfall in the region on 24 September.
Curtis A. Utz is the head of the Naval Aviation History Office of the Naval Historical Center.