More Ships, Helicopters Arrive to Aid Tsunami Victims
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2005 Navy helicopters continue to airlift aid to thousands of people left struggling for survival due to the earthquake- generated tsunami that hit Indian Ocean nations from Indonesia to Somalia.
The helicopters part of newly named Operation Unified Assistance are delivering supplies to parts of the Indonesian province of Aceh, the epicenter for the disaster. Aceh lost almost 100,000 people Dec. 26, and officials estimate that more than 155,000 people died across the region.
Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Indonesia and received a look at the affected area today. "In the course of my career, I've been in war and I've been through a number of hurricanes, tornadoes and other relief operations, but I have never seen anything like this," Powell said during a news conference following the tour. He noted he saw during his overflight of Bandar Aceh "how the wave came ashore, pushing everything in its path cars, ships, freighters overturned, all the way up to the foothills, and then starting up the foothills until finally the waves came to a stop."
"I cannot begin to imagine the horror that went through the families and all of the people who heard this noise coming and then had their lives snuffed out by this wave," he continued. "The power of the wave to destroy bridges, to destroy factories, to destroy homes, to destroy crops, to destroy everything in its path is amazing."
Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India were hardest hit by the tsunami, although Somalia more than 3,000 miles all the way across the Indian Ocean lost at least 200 people due to the waves.
U.S. Pacific Command officials stressed that the affected nations themselves are directing the relief operations. "The U.S. role is to support these efforts by responding to these nations to our fullest capability," said Navy Capt. Rodger Welch, an operations specialist with the command. "Our mission remains to minimize the loss of life and to mitigate human suffering."
Some 20 U.S. naval vessels are in the region and 85 U.S. military aircraft are working to deliver supplies to the survivors. U.S. servicemembers have delivered more than 610,000 pounds of relief supplies to the region. In the last 24 hours, U.S. helicopters delivered 5,560 pounds of water, 142,940 pounds of food and 2,100 pounds of supplies.
Beginning Jan. 6, six maritime pre-positioning ships will begin arriving in the region. These ships carry supplies and a built-in capacity for making and pumping fresh water.
Welch said U.S. helicopters from the USS Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group began flying missions into Aceh Jan. 4. U.S. helicopters also started delivering supplies to survivors in Sri Lanka.
Eleven nations have teamed with the United States to deliver needed humanitarian aid. They are Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Germany, New Zealand, France, India, Korea, Pakistan, Singapore and the United Kingdom. The nations have provided 26 planes, 41 helicopters and 26 naval vessels. All are teaming up effectively, officials said. Joint Task Force 536 in Utapao, Thailand, is now designated as a combined support force. The U.S. support groups in Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka are now combined support groups.
In military language, the term "joint" refers to operations in which at least two services work together. "Combined" is a term used when forces from two or more countries are involved.
Welch said an example of the cooperation among the nations occurred when a Boeing 737 jet blocked a runway at Bandar Aceh on Jan. 4 after striking a herd of cows. "Five countries' worth of people organized five countries' worth of equipment, and moved the aircraft within hours," he said.
Welch said the U.S. military brings "speed and capacity" to the disaster response. "We can come there quickly," he said. "(We were) coordinating and operating within a day, and we can come with a lot."