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Joint Military Response to Mudslide Continues in Philippines

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2006 – The joint military response to a devastating Feb. 17 mudslide in southern Leyte in the Philippines continues today, much of it being provided by sailors, Marines and airmen who were already in the region for a joint multinational training exercise, Balikatan, officials reported.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Craig J. Fried, civil military operations chief for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, spends a few moments Feb. 19 with children from the area around the devastated town of Guinsahugon in southern Leyte in the Philippines. The MEU, based out of Okinawa, Japan, is part of the Forward Deployed Amphibious Ready Group that is helping support the disaster response following a devastating mudslide. Photo by Lance Cpl. Raymond D. Petersen III, USMC

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Continuous ship-to-shore movements of relief supplies, including food, water and blankets, continues today off the southern Leyte coast. Sailors and Marines from the Forward Deployed Amphibious Ready Group, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Joint Task Force Balikatan and USS Curtis Wilbur arrived off the coast Feb. 19 to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the victims.

An initial group of 96 Marines from the 31st MEU went ashore by CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters with digging equipment to immediately assist with rescue efforts, officials reported. A complement of 22 helicopters, landing craft air cushions, and more than 4,000 Marines and sailors will conduct the disaster relief mission, officials reported.

"We plan to utilize Forward Deployed ARG assets to effectively provide maximum amount of aid to victims in order to mitigate suffering and prevent further loss of life in the wake of this tragic event," said Capt. Mark E. Donahue, commodore of Amphibious Squadron 11, the ARG's task group commander. "The sailors and Marines here are extremely dedicated individuals, ready to rise to the challenge ahead."

USS Essex, USS Harpers Ferry, USS Curtis Wilbur and the 31st MEU arrived in Subic Bay Feb. 17 for Balikatan 06, but were immediately called to assist in the relief efforts in Leyte. USS Juneau, an amphibious transport dock known as "Mighty J," is also participating.

Meanwhile, airmen from the 36th Contingency Response Group based at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, are working alongside the Filipino government to assess requirements for support of mudslide relief efforts.

"Opening and securing airfields are the areas of expertise for the 36th CRG," said Capt. Kevin Walker, 736th Security Forces Squadron commander. "Members of the 36th CRG leadership have gone forward to the affected area to assess the situation and find the best ways to bring in support."

The Pacific Air Forces first C-17 Globemaster III from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, is scheduled to land in the region on its first strategic airlift mission. In addition to support personnel, this aircraft will carry water, meals ready to eat, tents, cots and heavy equipment.

Airmen of the 36th CRG were already deployed to the Philippines for the Balikatan '06 exercise when mudslides engulfed a village and 1,800 people Feb. 17. Days of continuous heavy rain and flooding hit Leyte Island, about 420 miles southeast of Manila, and led to the landslide, which has virtually washed away the farming village of Guinsahugon, as well as two other villages.

Many of the military responders have previous disaster relief experience under their belts. Many 36th CRG airmen supported tsunami relief efforts of Operation Unified Assistance in early 2005.

Forward-deployed ARG assets, Essex and Fort McHenry previously participated in Operation Unified Assistance, providing aid to victims of the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. The ships delivered approximately 6 million pounds of relief supplies during the operation.

Fort McHenry also provided humanitarian assistance after a series of early December 2004 typhoons and tropical storms caused massive flooding and landslides on the Philippine island of Luzon. During that humanitarian assistance effort, Fort McHenry delivered 30,000 pounds of supplies and helped treat 100 patients, according to U.S. Embassy officials in the Philippines.

"The sailors and Marines of the Forward Deployed ARG have a strong history of providing much-needed assistance during difficult times. That legacy, that we do not take lightly, and our long enduring friendship that we have established with the people of the Philippines, gives me confidence that we will together get through this crisis," said Donahue.

The Forward Deployed ARG is part of Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force. It is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has authorized immediate dispersal of $100,000 to the Philippine Red Cross and is airlifting additional emergency supplies to the area.

(Compiled from Task Force 76 and Air Force news releases.)

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