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Philippines update: Ground transport, GW departure, water, candy and more

Nov. 20, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  

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The crew of a Navy Seahawk helicopter sees a plea for help painted on a road over San Jose, Philippines on Monday. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced by Typhoon Haiyan, which tore across several islands in the eastern Philippines on Nov. 8. (Wally Santana / The Associated Press)


Military Times photojournalist Mike Morones is in the Philippines, sending exclusive images from ongoing relief efforts.
Click here for Tuesday’s photo gallery.
Click here for Monday’s photo gallery.

Relief efforts in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines included more than 650 flight hours as of early Tuesday local time — a figure that might not grow as fast in the coming days as more roads become passable.

“Right now we are seeing encouraging signs that ground routes are opening significantly for delivery by trucks instead of helicopters,” Cmdr. William Marks, 7th Fleet spokesman, said in a media release issued Tuesday. “Ground transportation is much more efficient and can transport a greater load of supplies over the long term.”

Up to 85 percent of supplies are now being delivered by truck, according to the release — a “vast majority” of aid in the first days of Operation Damayan came via air.

Better ground transport will lead to a platform change at sea in the coming days — the aircraft carrier George Washington is expected to leave the region around Thursday, replaced by the amphibious dock landing ships Germantown and Ashland, which are expected to arrive Wednesday morning with Marines, relief supplies and heavy construction equipment.

Three more things to know about the aid efforts:

1. Water works

More than 110,000 gallons of fresh water have been delivered as part of aid efforts in the Philippines, including about 12,700 on Monday, according to the 7th Fleet release. A portion of that has come from the dry cargo and ammunition ship Charles Drew — which usually is busy offloading fuel or other supplies to warships.

The Military Sealift Command ship can churn out up to 2,800 gallons of drinkable water every four hours, according to a Task Force 70 news release.

And the crew got a head start.

“We produced ice by placing water in bags inside of boxes and then we froze it,” Norflis McCullough, the ship’s supply officer, said in the release. “We started the whole process six days before we started delivering it to areas in the Philippines.”

MH-60S Seahawk helicopters from the “Island Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 delivered the water and other supplies to villages cut off from ground-transport routes.

“It was rewarding to do my job, the situation was bittersweet considering how bad people were suffering,” Air Survival Equipment Specialist 2nd Class Peter Glatt said in the release. “After we delivered the water and supplies, the people were waving their hearts out as we flew away. It felt really good to help.”

2. Admiral: Orderly aid effort

While there are reports that corruption and political cronyism in the island nation may deter some aid efforts, sailors on the ground have encountered “good civil order” throughout their mission, a key admiral said.

“What struck me here was that even with the heavily damaged infrastructure from the typhoon, the preservation of civil society was impressive,” Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, head of the George Washington Carrier Strike Group, said in the 7th Fleet release. “I recognize that there is a long road ahead, but I can’t help but be moved by the resilience of the Philippine people.”

Masters-at-arms assigned to the GW are assisting in keeping the peace. The carrier’s security officer said problems faced by relief-givers, from a security perspective, after Typhoon Haiyan are the same as the ones that followed other disasters.

“Local first responders were directly impacted by the super typhoon and therefore unavailable, similar to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy,” Lt. Michael Whitehead said in a GW-issued news release Tuesday. “However, it appears that the collaborative-recovery efforts and individuals affected have been orderly.”

One Associated Press report described a helicopter delivering aid to a remote Philippine village being rushed by a group of local men — who then proceeded to form a line to help unload supplies.

3. Scorpion snacks

The “Scorpions” of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 49 have been shuttling aid to locals from the cruiser Cowpens, but some of those packages have gone beyond the staples.

Squadron members started a donation box in the ship’s hangar bay, according to a Task Force 70 news release issued Monday. Labeled “for the children,” sailors collected candy, cookies, potato chips — anything crew members could get their hands on.

Apparently, it was a success: The ship’s store was selling items in bulk to generous sailors.

“I went to the ship’s store to buy candy, but they were sold out, so instead I bought them a big box of chips,” Chief Electrician’s Mate Conrad Ventura, from Manila, said in the release. “I wrote them a message on the box because I think it’s important to communicate with them and let them know we’re here to help and we’ll help them get through it. It makes me happy every time I see photos of these kids smiling.”

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