RALEIGH — Fort Bragg’s 602nd Area Support Medical Company was evacuated to a nearby navy ship from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands ahead of Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm that is bearing down on the region that was devastated by Irma just last week. The Fayetteville-based medical group was in the Caribbean distributing supplies and providing medical care to the island.
St. Thomas, the most populated of the U.S. Virgin Islands and a popular tourist destination, experienced extensive damage in Irma and is now in the crosshairs of Maria. The storm weakened to a Category 4 Monday but regained its strength and Tuesday was again a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale used by the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
Early Maria lashed Guadeloupe’s southern shores and is creeping toward the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. It’s expected to maintain its strength and hit the region early on Wednesday. If it stays a Category 4 or 5, it will be the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years and the second this month.
The storm already ripped through the small island nation of Dominica, an island nation of 72,000 people, late on Monday as a Category 5 causing widespread devastation.
“The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn-away roofs in the city and the countryside,” said Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
“But I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating; indeed, mind-boggling. My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured. The winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with.”
Part of the 44th Medical Brigade from Fort Bragg, the 602nd Area Support Medical Company and 261st Multifunctional Medical Battalion will likely be called in to assist the islands with the impact of Maria, just as they have dealt with Irma fallout for the past week. Called the “Bulldogs,” the team is will be a critical part of recovery.
“Stay safe Bulldogs!!! Your mission is not complete yet…..just paused. many more may need your help and compassion in the coming days!” the 44th Medical Brigade posted on their Facebook page.
The groups deployed to the region last Wednesday with 30 to 40 paratroopers to run a triage treating and evacuating patients and providing dental support. They also were surveying capabilities of St. Thomas’ only hospital, Schneider Regional Medical Center, which has sustained major damage.
St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island have all been without any electrical service since Irma hit on Sept. 6.
The deployment comes as their home base of Fort Bragg in Fayetteville is still mourning an accident during a training exercise on Thursday that killed one Army Special Forces soldier and injured seven other service members. The incident occurred during U.S. Army Special Operations Command demolitions training, with the soldiers involved taken by air and ground to multiple hospitals, according to a statement from the command.
The extent of the injuries of the seven wounded soldiers and the cause of the incident at the base were not released as the investigation is ongoing.
The soldier who died was identified as Staff Sergeant Alexander Dalida, 32, of Dunstable, Mass. He was a student in the Special Forces Engineer Course at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, at Fort Bragg, the military said in a statement.
“Staff Sgt. Dalida’s death is a reminder that a soldier’s job is inherently dangerous,” Maj. Gen. Kurt Sonntag, commander of the Special Warfare Center and School, said in a statement.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Staff Sgt. Dalida’s family and friends,” he added.
That inherent danger is on the minds of those keeping a close eye on Hurricane Maria as forecasters call it “potentially catastrophic.” There are several models that show the storm headed north, toward the Carolinas, and others that show it going west toward the Gulf or east toward Bermuda. The National Hurricane Center said that by the weekend they will have a clearer idea of which way Maria is headed.