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Search and Rescue Ops End, Relief Ops Continue in Philippines

American Forces Press Service

LEYTE, Philippines, Feb. 25, 2006 – Armed forces of the Philippines and the United States with Joint Task Force Balikatan 2006 ended a week-long search-and-rescue operation at the direction of the Leyte Island governor in the wake of a massive mudslide that destroyed the village of Guinsaugon here Feb. 17, military officials reported today.

Having declared an end to the search-and-rescue operations, the Philippine government is now working closely with nongovernmental organizations and private volunteer organizations to conduct long-term recovery and reconstruction in the stricken area, officials said.

U.S. military forces in St. Bernard continue to coordinate relief efforts with local and regional leaders, the Philippines armed forces, the Red Cross and other nongovernmental and private volunteer organizations in the area.

Volunteer organizations are managing evacuation centers in St. Bernard, with local police and military personnel providing security. Local and regional leaders and volunteers are coordinating distribution of goods to those most affected by the disaster.

Search-and-rescue crews from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit began returning to the USS Essex and USS Harpers ferry today.

More than 2,500 U.S. forces positioned in the Philippines in support of Exercise Balikatan 2006 were diverted to assist in the search and rescue at the request of the Philippine government. The U.S. military role was to provide immediate, life-sustaining support and to mitigate loss of life and human suffering in the areas affected by the landslide.

The Philippine and U.S. governments have worked closely together to coordinate this humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response. The effective partnership enabled a rapid response to the disaster, officials said.

To date, JTF Balikatan 2006 has provided more than 3,100 five-gallon water cans, 900 1.5-gallon water cans, three pallets of bottled water, 2,500 blankets, two pallets of military rations, 1,500 sleeping mats, 150 pick axes, a pallet plus 500 additional shovels, three pallets of rice, a pallet of medications, 12 55-gallon diesel fuel drums, 40 chain saws and five generators.

Joint Task Force Balikatan 2006 also provided other supplies and support, including light sets, kettles, and air and ground transportation.

Philippine and U.S. military aircraft have flown more than 400 hours bringing in supplies and people to support the efforts in Leyte. The fixed-wing aircraft include KC-130 Hercules and a C-17 Globemaster III. Helicopter support includes the CH-46E, CH-53E Super Stallion, UH-1N Huey and the H-60 Black Hawk.

Exercise Balikatan 2006, an annual combined bilateral exercise involving armed forces of the Philippines and the United States, began Feb. 20 and consists of a staff exercise, cross-training and field training, and humanitarian and civic assistance projects. The 22nd exercise in the series will end March 5.

(Courtesy of Balikatan 2006 Public Affairs.)

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