Chief Petty Officer Phillip Pickle assists a Kaikoura resident with filling her water containers. (U.S. Embassy/Ola Thorsen)

KAIKOURA, New Zealand - Sailors assigned to USS Sampson (DDG 102) flew ashore Nov. 18 to support New Zealand forces in rendering assistance to residents affected by the recent earthquake in the rural areas of Kaikoura.

Eighteen members of the Sampson crew, with backgrounds in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, damage control, and medical treatment departed in waves aboard the ship's helicopters from Sampson off the coast, eager to lend a hand.

"Sampson's Sailors and I joined the other civil and multinational forces ashore, and divided into groups that had a specified purpose," said Lt. Lee Shewmake, chief engineer aboard Sampson, and the officer who led U.S. Sailors ashore during relief efforts. "While some Sailors set up a food distribution center in an elementary school, others delivered toilets with self-contained sewage systems to homes without plumbing to alleviate the sewage issue."

Shewmake also sent some of his Sailors door-to-door with informational pamphlets to help residents understand what services are available to them.

In support of the local government, one of Sampson's embarked MH-60R Seahawk helicopters took the Kaikoura Mayor for an aerial survey of the damage.

"This morning, I accompanied Mayor Winston Gray on an aerial tour of his town in one of the helicopters assigned to Sampson," said Cmdr. Tim LaBenz, Sampson's commanding officer. "While viewing sobering images of widespread infrastructural damage, I was also reminded and encouraged by the sight of my Sailors going ashore with an unwavering can-do spirit that assures me we are doing our part in supporting the New Zealand forces."

Kaikoura recently experienced a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that caused widespread destruction of infrastructure, leaving much of the area cut off from other parts of South Island. While the situation is now stable, many are still without power and running water.

Sampson, originally scheduled to pull into Auckland's Waitemata Harbour, diverted course at the request of the New Zealand government to render assistance to those affected by the earthquake on the South Island. The ship joined an international task group comprised of ships from New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, Sampson's crew has flown helicopter flights and brought manpower and supplies ashore to assist the New Zealand responders leading the charge on the ground.

Kaikoura Mayor Winston Gray, left, and Cmdr. Timothy LaBenz, commanding officer of USS Sampson (DDG 102), survey the damage to local infrastructure, Nov. 18. (U.S. Navy/PO2 Bryan Jackson)
U.S. Sailors and Coast Guardsmen bring supplies to Kaikoura High School, Nov. 18. (U.S. Navy/PO2 Bryan Jackson)
An MH-60R Sea Hawk attached to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 73 takes off from a staging area in Kaikoura, Nov. 18. (NZDF/CPL Amanda McErlich)