Recovery Effort Takes on Great Energy, Task Force Commander Says
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2013 The goal of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines engaged in areas of the Philippines devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan is to restore normalcy to people’s lives, the commander of the U.S. military task force contributing to the relief effort said this morning.
U.S. sailors from the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and Philippine civilians unload relief supplies to support Operation Damayan in Guiuan, Philippines, Nov. 17, 2013. The George Washington Strike Group is supporting the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade to assist the Philippine government in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Beverly Lesonik
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John E. Wissler, commander of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, spoke with the Pentagon Channel via satellite from his Joint Task Force 505 headquarters in Manila.
The task force was officially activated yesterday to lead humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in support of the Philippine government.
“Our short-term goals are literally to get relief supplies to the Philippine people,” Wissler said. “We want to restore some normalcy in their lives, and what that particularly means is food, water and shelter.”
The general noted that numerous organizations are taking part.
“The recovery effort has taken on a great energy over the last two days and has shown a great infusion of Philippine military, government of the Philippines, international aid and [U.S. Agency for International Development] organization support through the ongoing operation.”
The general said the devastation wrought by the super typhoon looked to him as if an F5 tornado 60 miles wide tore through a great swath of the islands of Samar, Leyte and Cebu. Such destruction, he said, would have been difficult for any country to overcome.
“But the resilience of the Philippine people and the coordination of both the Philippine government with the U.S. military joint force that’s here, and also with the international and USAID organizations, is making a great difference every day,” Wissler said. “It’s saved lives.”
According to the Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, 3,982 people have died, 18,266 have been injured, and 1,602 are missing as a result of the typhoon.
Wissler said 13,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are engaged in the relief effort. Troops have delivered 1,300 tons of relief supplies, logged nearly 1,000 flight hours moving 1,200 relief workers into Tacloban, and airlifted more than 8,000 survivors out of affected areas.
Wissler said U.S. service members have made a difference in the Philippines by going into the devastated areas, living very austere lives of their own and working exhaustively long hours to aid those who have been traumatized by the storm.
“They have assisted many injured and elderly onto aircraft so they could be evacuated from the heart of the disaster,” the general said, “and they’ve taken it on themselves to assist in local neighborhoods with the distribution of food and water and assessing how we can make lives better here in the Philippines.”
Relief efforts also are going well on the ground, Wissler said.
“We’d begun an air bridge between Manila and the city of Tacloban that had initiated a significant surge in the relief supplies,” the general explained. “From Tacloban we’ve pushed supplies to other areas, Ormoc and Guiuan, and from there … to people outside those major hubs, in a hub-and-spoke system that has worked very well.”
He said the World Food Program has performed significant work in reestablishing sea- and ground-based lines of communication and distributing food assets so the military forces could eliminate their early reliance on the air bridge between Manila and Tacloban.
“The use of aviation assets to deliver large amounts of supplies, while effective in time, is inefficient in quantity,” Wissler said, “and their ability to mobilize commercial trucks, ships and other capabilities in order to provide this has allowed them to provide great support to the people of the Philippines.”
The general said the biggest challenge facing the Philippine people is not the relief effort, which is going well, but rebuilding.
“The long, ongoing reconstruction is already beginning,” Wissler said, “with great planning by the Philippine government and with aid and assistance from the United States government and many other governments across the world, as well as international organizations that are bringing aid and support to begin that effort.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)