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Despite hurdles, Marines delivering aid to Philippines

Nov. 12, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  

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Marines carry an injured Filipino off a KC-130J Super Hercules at Villamor Airbase in Manila on Nov. 11. Typhoon Haiyan has affected 4.2 million people across 36 provinces, according to the Philippine government. (Lance Cpl. Stephen Himes / Marine Corps)
Marines carry an injured Filipino off a KC-130J Super Hercules at Villamor Airbase in Manila on Nov. 11. Typhoon Haiyan has affected 4.2 million people across 36 provinces, according to the Philippine government. (Lance Cpl. Stephen Himes / Marine Corps)

Marines responding to the humanitarian disaster in the Philippines are delivering aid by air while they try to clear debris from roads in order to reach some of the areas hit hardest by Friday’s deadly typhoon, according to the Marine general overseeing the military’s relief efforts.

More than 107,000 pounds of food, water and emergency relief supplies have arrived in the Philippines, according to a Marine Corps news release. Marines have also transported more than 140 passengers and evacuated about 160 refugees from the Tacloban area, a city devastated by the storm.

By Wednesday, Marines will be moving military assessment teams to Tacloban from Cebu, a city about 150 miles to the southwest, according to the release. They will transport the teams via MV-22B Ospreys. They will also continue to ferry workers and supplies, as well as evacuate refugees.

Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, deputy commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force and the commanding general of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, told National Public Radio on Tuesday that he is most concerned about reaching storm victims in municipalities whose roads have been cut off by fallen trees and downed power lines. As they work to clear those roads, he said, they’re simultaneously using aircraft to deliver emergency supplies and to transport people in need.

Kennedy, who viewed the storm’s destruction from the air, told NPR it looked like the area had been hit by a bomb.

“Virtually all of the structures, if they were not made out of concrete or steel, are gone,” he said. “It looks like a 50-mile-wide tornado hit landfall and just tore everything apart.”

Along the southern coast of Samar, Kennedy said the palm trees have all been ripped out of the ground and are now strewn across the roads, disrupting lines of communication. From the air, they look like matchsticks scattered about, he said.

Even though Marines can deliver aid from aircraft, there are still challenges carrying that out in the current environment. Kennedy told NPR that running an airfield requires a lot of infrastructure, including towers, lights, fuel and space to load and unload the aircraft.

“You need all of that stuff, none of which is present,” he said. “It was either destroyed, the infrastructure was destroyed — all that equipment you would use to service the aircraft has been washed out to sea or washed into the interior of the city.”

There are about 270 Marines and sailors under Kennedy’s charge who departed Japan Sunday and Monday to assist with disaster relief. They have also leveraged four Ospreys and three KC-130J Hercules, according to a Marine Corps news release. The Ospreys are assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262 and the KC-130Js are with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152.

Officials confirmed nearly 1,800 deaths as a result of Typhoon Haiyan, but they fear the toll could reach as high as 10,000. Hundreds of thousands more are displaced.

Kennedy told NBC that assistance is needed now, and that next week will be too late for those awaiting help.

The Pentagon dispatched its ready-duty flattop in the Asia-Pacific region and three escort ships to provide relief and support to the typhoon-stricken Philippines. The order from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel cut short a Hong Kong port visit by one day for the aircraft carrier George Washington, cruisers Cowpens and Antietam, and destroyer Mustin. The crews have been recalled from liberty and are getting ready to “make best speed” for the disaster zone, according to a Defense Department news release, a journey that will take about two days.

Those badly injured will be transported to the ship for medical care, according to a news release. The ships and their complement of aircraft will also help move food, water, supplies and people.

The aircraft carrier George Washington also has the ability to produce 400,000 gallons of drinking water each day, the release states.

Staff writer Sam Fellman contributed to this report.

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