Officials Say Tsunami Disaster Will Change in Size, Shape
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2005 The response to the disaster that struck Indian Ocean nations "is multinational and will grow in size and shape" as more information comes to light, officials at U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii said today.
"All our services are providing some level of support to the host nations," said Navy Capt. Rodger Welch, an official with the command's operations branch.
The number of U.S. military personnel helping Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and the Maldives continues to increase. Officials in the region expect the number of dead from the earthquake/tsunami to reach 150,000. Indonesian officials said the number of dead in Aceh province alone could reach 100,000.
Navy aircraft began delivering supplies to the hardest-hit region of Aceh on Dec. 31, officials said. Navy aviators continued the missions Jan. 1 and today despite bad weather, and being limited to visual flight rules due to the lack of radars in the region.
Helicopters from the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Battle Group flew 12 sorties into Aceh province. Two C-130s delivered U.S. Agency for International Development supplies into the airports at Banda Aceh. There were 10 helicopter sorties from the Lincoln into the hard-hit area of Meulaboh.
In Sri Lanka, 200 Marine Corps engineers from Okinawa, Japan, will arrive to help the Sri Lankan government unsnarl the logistics problems. Aid is piling up in the capital of Colombo. However, roads and railroads in the affected region have been washed out. The Marines will help the Sri Lankans repair the infrastructure and get supplies moving, Welch said. Sri Lanka has lost at least 25,000 people in the disaster, according to officials.
In the last 24 hours, the U.S. survey team completed its assessment of Sri Lanka southeastern coast. The group met with senior Sri Lankan leaders to prioritize U.S. efforts, and two C-130s airlifted air traffic control equipment into the island nation. Marine helicopters will arrive in Sri Lanka Jan. 3, helping to eliminate the bottleneck that exists at the airport in Sri Lanka.
In Thailand, five C-130 sorties delivered 85,000 pounds of supplies in the last day. In addition, the aircraft transported 17 German citizens out of Phuket for medical treatment.
Joint Task Force 536 commander Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Blackman has arrived in Thailand and is speaking with Thai officials in Bangkok. The joint task force is fully operational at Utapao, Thailand.
U.S. teams continue their assessments in the country and continue to ship supplies where they are needed. U.S. officials across the region are working closely with local nations, nongovernmental agencies and international organizations to ensure aid is flowing to where it is needed.
Logistical bottlenecks are occurring because the infrastructure in many places simply is gone. More aid continues to arrive. The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group is entering the area and will soon join the effort. Some of the assets in the group will go to Indonesia, some to Sri Lanka. Other ships in the group will go where needed, Welch said.
Six U.S. maritime pre-positioning ships will enter the region in the next six days. The large cargo ships carry food, fresh water and other relief supplies. The ships normally contain enough equipment and supplies to support 15,000 Marines for one month, officials in Washington said. The ships have water purification machines and evaporators capable of producing more than 100,000 gallons of potable water per day, and pumping it to shore from up to two miles away. The ships also carry road-making supplies, electrical power generators and a many other emergency supplies and equipment.