Hurricane Gilbert

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name:
Hurricane Gilbert
Jamaica and Haiti
September 13, 1988–February 7, 1989
Emergency: A hurricane with 115 mph winds left hundreds of thousands of people in the West Indies homeless and without electricity.
Organizations: 60th, 433d, 436th, and 437th Military Airlift Wings; 61st Military Airlift Group; 118th, 314th, and 317th Tactical Airlift Wings; and 911th and 928th Tactical Airlift Groups
Airlifted: 571 tons of relief cargo, including plastic sheeting, tents, blankets, chain saws, water containers, food, water purification tablets, building materials, clothing, medical supplies, and electrical utility vehicles.
Aircraft Used: C–5 (six), C–130 (seven+), and C–141 (one)

Hurricane Gilbert struck the islands of Jamaica and Hispaniola in the West Indies in September with 115 mph winds. In Jamaica, the storm killed at least 26 people, left 500,000 homeless, and deprived the island of electricity. Responding to an appeal from the Jamaican and Haitian governments, the State Department organized a relief operation, coordinated by AID and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. Because commercial airlift of humanitarian relief supplies was not immediately available, the State Department requested a military airlift.

On September 13, a 314th Tactical Airlift Wing C–130 Hercules aircraft flew a State Department damage assessment team from Homestead AFB, Florida, to Kingston, Jamaica, to determine which supplies were most urgently needed. A day later, four C–130s—one from the 314th Tactical Airlift Wing and three from the Tennessee Air National Guard’s 118th Tactical Airlift Wing—transported 40 tons of relief equipment and supplies from Howard AFB, Panama, to Kingston. Their cargo included 360 rolls of plastic sheeting for temporary shelters, 200 tents, 9,600 cotton blankets, 10 chain saws, 3,960 five-gallon water containers, and 18 3,000-gallon water storage tanks.

The Military Airlift Command followed up on September 18 and 19 with an airlift of 130 tons of ready-to-eat meals, water purification tablets, tents, blankets, building materials, and other supplies from Howard AFB and from Kelly AFB, Texas. Two C–5s from the 433d and 436th Military Airlift Wings and a 437th Military Airlift Wing C–141 delivered the cargo to Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston.

More humanitarian relief arrived in Jamaica in October. Among the aircraft transporting 290 tons of electrical utility trucks and equipment to the island were three 436th Military Airlift Wing C–5 Galaxies. Power companies from the United States and Canada loaned vehicles, which were loaded aboard the aircraft in Florida, New York, Texas, and Ontario. By the end of the year, MAC had flown 460 tons of relief cargo to Jamaica.

Jamaica was not the only country in the West Indies devastated by Hurricane Gilbert. Haiti, on the western side of the island of Hispaniola, suffered food shortages. During October, the 928th Tactical Airlift Group in Chicago transported 22 tons of food to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, on a C–130 aircraft. The airlift to Jamaica continued into early 1989. At the end of January and early February, a 911th Tactical Airlift Group C–130 carried 21 tons of clothing and hospital equipment to Jamaica for Hurricane Gilbert victims. On February 7, a 60th MAC C–5 closed out the relief operation by transporting 68 tons of cargo, including four prefabricated buildings, from Travis AFB in California to Kingston.

In the five months between September 1988 and February 1989, at least 14 Air Force cargo aircraft delivered 549 tons of relief equipment, vehicles, and supplies to Jamaica and 22 tons of food to Haiti. Other MAC, AF Res, and ANG aircraft flying regular channel missions across the Caribbean Sea also delivered supplies to the West Indies under the terms of the Denton Amendment, which allowed humanitarian cargo to be transported on military flights at no charge to the donors or consignees. The airlift helped Jamaica and Haiti to recover from one of the worst storms of the century.

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