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Military Provides Rescue, Humanitarian Support in Pacific

By Donna Miles and Navy Lt. j.g. Theresa Donnelly
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2009 – While U.S. special operators conduct a massive rescue effort after devastating flooding in the Philippines, the Hawaii Air National Guard and USS Ingraham are headed to American Samoa to support rescue and humanitarian relief there following a massive earthquake and tsunami.

The Hawaii Air Guard is slated to fly two C-17 Globemaster III transport jets to American Samoa today in response to Federal Emergency Management Agency requests, Air Force Maj. Rene White, a Pentagon spokeswoman, reported.

The aircraft will transport cargo and personnel required to support disaster relief efforts, she said.

Meanwhile, USS Ingraham, homeported at Naval Station Everett, Wash., is en route to provide needed support, White said. Ingraham is an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate.

FEMA officials asked the Defense Department to provide medical triage, hazardous material response, mass casualty care and strategic airlift. Officials are identifying the appropriate units to provide this support, White said.

An 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck 120 miles south of American Samoa yesterday afternoon, generating 15-foot waves in some of the territories’ islands that wiped out entire villages. At least 65 people are reported dead in Samoa, more than 20 in American Samoa, and at least six in neighboring Tonga.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people in the affected communities,” White said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell today outlined some of the infrastructure for the effort.

"We are providing Travis Air Force Base in California, Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii [and] Andersen Air Force Base in Guam as base support installations," he said. "These are basically staging areas for operations to provide aid and assistance to those in American Samoa. We're going to be providing medical triage, [hazardous materials] response, mass-casualty care and strategic airlift. That's what the focus at the outset will be of our assistance."

Meanwhile, members of Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines assisted the Philippine armed forces in rescuing 52 people stranded by massive flooding during Tropical Storm Ketsana earlier this week.

The storm, known locally as Tropical Storm Ondoy, struck in the Manila area Sept. 27 and 28. The floods displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and the most recent reports indicate that nearly 100,000 people have been relocated, according to Philippines Disaster Management Services.

Members of Navy SEAL teams and Naval Special Boat Teams 12 and 20, and U.S. medical troops attached to the Philippines task force responded, working with the island nation’s military and government officials to rescue people from rooftops, deliver food and distribute medical supplies, officials reported.

Joint special operations task force rescue teams launched two F-470 Zodiac boats in the flood waters and worked through the night transporting people to schools, churches and evacuation shelters. The teams also helped to rescue a woman in labor who was stranded in a flooded-out house.

In addition, task force teams delivered 500 pounds of food to a high school Sept. 27, and contracted a civilian helicopter the following day to deliver 4,200 pounds of food and water in Cainta, northeast of Pasig city.

“These people lost their houses [and] cars, and might still be looking for family members,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Porter, a joint special operations task force medic who provided medical care. “I wanted to do anything and everything I could do to help the Filipino people. I was glad I could be a part of the rescue efforts.”

Local officials praised the response. “The work the U.S. military did was terrific,” said Roman Romulo, Pasig City congressman. “I was very thankful for U.S. support. Your teams were able to successfully go to Santa Lucia High School to help deliver food. It was a big boost that your people were helping us.”

American Samoa is the only U.S. possession in the southern hemisphere. It is slightly larger than Washington, D.C., covering 76.2 square miles, and has about 57,000 citizens.

(Donna Miles is an American Forces Press Service reporter. Navy Lt. j.g. Theresa Donnelly serves with Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines.)

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