U.S. Navy aircraft carrier relieved of hurricane duty, sails north from the Keys

In a sign of scaling-back Hurricane Irma relief operations in and around Florida, the Navy relieved the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln from duty off the Keys on Thursday and recalled it to its base in Norfolk, Virginia, military officials said.

The Lincoln was the largest symbol of the huge national response mounted by the Department of Defense as the Category 5 hurricane was headed to Florida. But by Thursday, with an estimated 10,000 National Guard and reserve troops in the state, all but about 2,000 from Florida, the Pentagon had already began recalling forces.

“Typically if we’re leaving that’s good news. I’ve got to tell you, the big effort down there on the military side really is the Guard,” said John Cornelio, a spokesman for the U.S. Northern Command, which oversaw Defense Department response efforts from Peterson air base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

In Key West, Marines and sailors aboard the USS Iwo Jima, ferried cases of water from the amphibious assault ship by landing craft to Key West and Marathon, he said.

At Florida National Guard headquarters in St. Augustine, which weathered the storm without damage, spokesman Will Manley said Florida Guard troops staffed shelters during Irma, but were withdrawing from those. On Thursday, he said, they were working relief distribution points, traffic control and county Emergency Operation Centers.

Another 10,000 or so U.S. military forces had been put on standby to come to Florida for Irma and by Wednesday had been waved off, he said.