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Ships, Aircraft, Personnel Converge on Disaster Zone

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2004 – The U.S. Joint Task Force set up to provide assistance to the nations affected by last weekend's Indian Ocean tsunami is up and running, and Marine assessment teams have started to report their findings.

More than 115,000 people are estimated to have died in the tsunamis that struck on Christmas. U.S. forces are in the region to help the affected nations in whatever needs to be done.

The United States will deliver "as much help as soon as we can, as long as we're needed," said Navy Capt. Roger Welch, chief of U.S. Pacific Command's Joint Interagency Coordination Group in Hawaii.

U.S. ships and personnel are converging on the affected areas. Nine P-3 Orions are helping with aerial reconnaissance, 10 C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft are in the area and already have started delivering supplies, and three teams in Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka are helping local authorities with disaster assessments.

Eight pre-positioning systems are coming from Guam and Diego Garcia to deliver supplies to the hardest-hit areas. These ships contain 450,000 gallons of water and the capability of making 90,000 gallons of fresh water each day.

The USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Battle Group is transiting through the Straits of Malacca now and will take up a position off the coast of Sumatra. The group will be well placed to provide support to the Indonesian province of Aceh. The Lincoln group will be there Dec. 31, said Navy officials.

The USS Bonhomme Richard Marine Strike Group left Guam and is sailing for a position off Sri Lanka. That group should arrive in a week, officials said.

The scope of the disaster is almost beyond comprehension, officials said. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia destroyed buildings in nearby Aceh and also loosed tsunamis that struck Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, Malaysia, the Maldives and Somalia. The coastal areas of these nations have been wiped out, and water and aid are necessary to prevent more deaths.

Welch said getting an accurate assessment is key. "Some of these areas are remote," Welch said during a teleconference call. "We have to go out and 'surveille' that's what the P-3s are doing, as well as some of the helicopters (off the Abraham Lincoln Battle Group)."

The U.S. effort is in support of the local authorities. These are sovereign nations, Pentagon officials said. "The United States is not there to take over the rescue or relief effort," an official said. "We are there to provide whatever help they decide they need."

Joint Task Force 536, formed specifically for the relief effort, is running at Utapao, Thailand.

Welch said fresh water seems to be the first need in the affected regions. "People are drinking contaminated water," he said. The countries also need food, medical supplies, heavy equipment, trucks and building supplies. Much of this will be available from the pre-positioned ships, officials said.

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U.S. Pacific Command
USS Abraham Lincoln
USS Bonhomme Richard
P-3 Orion
C-130 Hercules

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