U.S. Southern Command expanded rescue efforts and assistance to Guatemala Sunday in response to the devastation, landslides and flooding caused by Hurricane Eta as it sweeps across Central America.
SOUTHCOM's Joint Task Force-Bravo sent about 14 military personnel, one HH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and one CH-47 Chinook helicopter to Guatemala to assist with aerial rescue operations, SouthCom said in a release.
Eta appeared to be gaining strength as it passed over Cuba on a path that could impact the Florida Keys. The National Hurricane Center issued hurricane and storm surge warnings for the region.
Guatemala joined Honduras and Panama in declaring national emergencies as the death toll from Eta in Central America approached 150.
As of Sunday morning, JTF-Bravo's helicopters and Navy Boat Team sailors had rescued 56 Hondurans and Panamanians and transported 19 Panamanian rescue workers to communities isolated by the hurricane, SouthCom said.
About 69 JTF-B personnel and two Black Hawks have already staged in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to coordinate support efforts with the Honduran response force. JTF-B is also supporting out of Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras with an additional two Black Hawks and a Chinook, SOUTHCOM officials said.
"Our immediate, No. 1 priority is to save lives," SOUTHCOM commander Adm. Craig Faller said in a statement. "These deployments highlight the importance of our strategic location at Soto Cano, which allows us to rapidly mobilize and respond to a crisis like this."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.