Command Continues Aid Efforts in Pacific
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2009 U.S. Pacific Command continues to help in coordinating humanitarian relief operations in American Samoa, Indonesia and the Philippines, the command’s top officer said today.
Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating said Pacom officials are keeping a watchful eye on Typhoon Parma, now approaching the northern Philippines, and Typhoon Melor, which is threatening Guam, Tinian and Saipan.
The command has sent five C-17 Globemaster III transport jets to American Samoa, which was hit by an earthquake-triggered tsunami Sept. 29. Officials said more than 160 people died in the disaster, and that thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed. The C-17s, from the Hawaii Air National Guard and the Air Force, deployed from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. The planes carried search-and-rescue teams, mortuary affairs specialists and vehicles. “The aircraft carried a lot of equipment and some food supplies,” Keating told Pentagon reporters via telephone from his office in Hawaii.
Pacom is standing by to fly two or three more C-17 missions filled with Red Cross personnel and supplies to the island. In addition, the USS Ingraham, a Navy frigate, is in the waters off American Samoa. The ship has two helicopters that will help with damage assessment and search and rescue efforts. In all operations in American Samoa, the command is acting in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the admiral said.
Tropical Storm Ketsana struck the Philippines on Sept. 25, killing more than 250 people in Manila, the capital city, Philippine officials reported. Thousands are homeless. “About 20 personnel with the Joint Special Operations Task Force went up to Manila to help the armed forces of the Philippines in any way they could,” Keating said.
But even as Manila residents assess the damage and bury their dead, Typhoon Parma is bearing down on the country’s northern islands. The storm is expected to miss Manila, Keating said, but it still could cause tremendous damage. Forecasters are saying the storm – still off the coast – could intensify and become a super typhoon.
“We have moved two amphibious ships – the USS Harpers Ferry and the USS Tortuga – off the coast of the Philippines,” Keating said. The ships have a Marine complement aboard and will stand by to provide whatever aid the Philippine government requests.
In Indonesia, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport has delivered supplies to the area around Padang. U.S. special operations forces -- who were on their way to the country for an exercise when the earthquake hit Sept. 30 -- were able to set up communications with Pacom headquarters and help Indonesian and American officials assess the damage.
Thousands of people are reported to be trapped in pancaked buildings. The command is sending a Navy rear admiral to the region to help in coordinating U.S. military efforts with the Indonesian armed forces. “The USS Denver, with three heavy-lift helicopters, is on its way to Indonesia,” Keating said.
Meanwhile, Typhoon Melor is approaching Guam, Saipan and Tinian in the Marianas Islands. The USS Bonhomme Richard is east of the islands and is prepared to offer assistance to the residents there if needed. Weather reports say Melor will have winds in the 50- to 75-knot range. Navy submarines and Air Force aircraft have left Guam, and islanders are battening down the hatches.
“We’re watching it, but it is a normal weather pattern for this time of year, and we’re cautiously optimistic there will not be a significant blow,” Keating said.