U.S. Navy hospital ship 'Comfort' arrives in Puerto Rico

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The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) arrives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 3, 2017. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Capt. Christopher Merian)

More help steamed into Puerto Rico today. The U.S. Navy’s hospital ship USNS Comfort pulled into San Juan, ready to treat victims on the storm-battered island.

Comfort is one of two floating hospitals operated by the Navy. Like her sister ship, USNS Mercy, Comfort was built as an oil tanker in 1976 before being converted to a hospital ship in 1987. Both are equivalent to the height of a 10-story building and the length of three football fields.

The ship has 1,000 patient beds, including an 80-bed intensive care ward and 12 operating rooms. Aside from surgery, the highly skilled mixed military and civilian crew performs a range of services – everything from X-rays to blood tests to dental exams. They can even make eyeglasses by the hundreds.

Based in Virginia, Comfort is meant to provide support to combat zones anywhere in the world. But the ship more often serves in a humanitarian capacity – Comfort was deployed to New York after September 11th, the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, and Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake, among other places.

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico, 95 percent of electricity customers remain without power, including some hospitals. And much of the countryside is still struggling to access such basic necessities as food, fresh water and cash.

Now, victims of Maria will get, as the military boasts, “care that knows no boundaries.”

“It's amazing what can be accomplished medically on these ships, both for military personnel and civilians,” the U.S. Navy says. “No wonder these two ships have become a symbol of hope around the globe whenever disaster strikes.”