Hurricane Hazel

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name: Hurricane Hazel
Location: Republic of Haiti and the Bahamas
Date: October 1954
Emergency: Hurricane Hazel hit southwestern Haiti, bringing high winds, tides, and rain. It also hit Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas.
Organizations: Eighteenth Air Force, 456th and 463d Troop Carrier Wings, and 28th Air Rescue Squadron
Airlifted: More than seven tons of food, mostly rice, and medical supplies; and 10 injured victims airlifted to hospitals.
Aircraft Used: C–119 (four+) and H–19 (one)

On October 12, Columbus Day, Hurricane Hazel hit a peninsula in southwestern Haiti. Winds of 115 mph brought high tides, leaving 100 people dead, 100,000 homeless, and thousands without food or medical care. The Haitian government appealed for international assistance as the storm continued northward through the Bahamas, ravaging Eleuthera Island.

At the request of the Caribbean Air Command, two C–119 Flying Boxcars from the Eighteenth Air Force’s 456th Troop Carrier Wing were diverted from a training flight to Panama to fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to pick up supplies for hurricane victims in Haiti. The cargo consisted of Red Cross food and medical supplies. Lacking adequate airfields in the disaster area, the airplanes dropped the supplies by parachute over Jeremie, Haiti, which was crowded with hurricane survivors. The airlift complemented Navy efforts in a project called Operation Sante.

On October 17, the 28th Air Rescue Squadron at Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico, sent an H–19 helicopter piloted by 1st Lt. William B. Roberts, Jr., to Jeremie. For the next five days, the helicopter flew rescue and relief missions, transporting nine injured hurricane victims to local hospitals and delivering food and medical supplies to Haitians whose surface transportation routes had been cut. On October 23, while flying back to Ramey AFB, Lieutenant Roberts’ helicopter was diverted to evacuate an individual with a broken neck from a mountain landslide site about 12 miles south of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Heavy precipitation contributed to the landslide, which killed 86 people and left 100 missing.

Between October 17 and 24, the 28th Air Rescue Squadron H–19 transported at least 10 Haitian storm victims to medical facilities while distributing more than two tons of food and medical supplies. The Republic of Haiti later issued a postage stamp to commemorate the squadron’s contribution to Hurricane Hazel relief and recovery efforts.

During the same month, the Eighteenth Air Force relieved other West Indian victims of Hurricane Hazel. The 463d Troop Carrier Wing, using C–119 Flying Boxcars, airlifted 10 prefabricated buildings weighing five tons from Hensley Field, Texas, to Eleuthera Island. Each building, when assembled, covered an area 20 by 48 feet. The shelters housed hurricane victims until they could move into more permanent dwellings.

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