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Air operations in typhoon-devastated Philippines nearly complete

Nov. 22, 2013 - 05:29PM   |  
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The U.S. military will soon deliver all of the aid in response to Super Typhoon Haiyan that the U.S. Agency for International Development has requested on behalf of the Philippine government.

“We roughly have about 100 more pallets or so to go of shelter, food and water, and we think, depending on weather here, that we’ll probably have that aid distributed over the next 24 to 48 hours,” Brig. Gen. James Hecker said Friday from Manila. Hecker is charge of all U.S. military air operations in the Philippines.

The Philippine government then will determine what more it needs and USAID will decide if the U.S. military needs to be involved in further relief effort or if needs can be met through other means, such as civilian contractors, said Hecker, commander of the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan.

“If they are requiring some other operations, we will do that, but there’s roughly around 37 countries that are here now, so they are getting a lot of support from the international community as well,” he said. “We will do what’s needed, but we’ll just stop at that and we don’t want to go beyond that because we don’t want to crowd the Philippines if they are happy with what they’ve got.”

As of Nov. 22, all of the services taking part in relief efforts had delivered about 1,785 tons of supplies and evacuated more than 17,000 people from the disaster area, Hecker said.

“We are making some significant progress,” he said. “Most of the areas have what they need as far as food supplies and water supplies. Most of the roads have been cleared. Today was the first day that we didn’t use helicopters to get food, water, shelter supplies into remote locations because of the fact that the roads are much clearer.”

Hecker learned that he would be in charge of air operations for Philippine relief efforts on Nov. 15 — a week after the storm made landfall. When he saw Tacloban three days later, it was clear the U.S. military needed to ramp up its efforts to help survivors, he said.

“The pictures that you see don’t do it justice unless you’ve really seen it in person and then you truly experience the devastation that the Philippine population went through,” he said. “Probably 75 percent of the trees are down — and these aren’t 10-foot trees, these are palm trees that have been growing over the last 60, 70 years, just snapped in half or totally uprooted and on the ground. Then you have nine out of every 10 buildings are leveled with some just left with concrete sides and some don’t even have that left.”

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