U.S. Military Mobilizes To Help Typhoon-Stricken Philippines

Linda Wertheimer talks to Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy who is managing a large aid effort from Manila. He is touring the devastated areas by air. After one assessment, he told the AP: "We saw bodies everywhere," and "I don't know how else to describe total devastation."

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Efforts are underway to speed up delivery of aid to the Philippines islands worst hit by Typhoon Haiyan. The monster storm tore through the region this past weekend. Some 10,000 people are thought to have died. Hundreds of thousands have been left homeless.

The widespread devastation has made it incredibly difficult to get aid to those most in need. Philippine soldiers have now begun distributing food and water in the devastated city of Tacloban.

The U.S. military is also being mobilized to help, and the man on the scene there is Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy. General Kennedy, welcome to our program.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAUL KENNEDY: Thank you, Linda. Good morning, your time.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that you've actually seen much of the devastated area. You've flown over it. Could you tell us what you saw?

KENNEDY: Absolutely. We flew over the metropolitan area of Tacloban, which is a city about of 350,000 people, and then out along the southern coast of Samar. The area is, as you would expect, with 200-mile-an-hour winds and a 25-foot tidal surge, it looks like a bomb went off. Virtually all of the structures, if they were not made out of concrete or steel, are gone. It looks like a 50-mile-wide tornado hit landfall and just tore everything apart.

WERTHEIMER: Well, so, what is your first priority when you're looking at a situation of such devastation and confusion?

KENNEDY: We want to get shelter for these people and - who are exposed to the elements. And we have a second tropical depression hot on the heels of this typhoon. So we want to get these people under shelter as quickly as possible. Then we could distribute the food and water and medical supplies to start to piece this thing back together.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you have Marines and sailors under your command who will be participating in the relief effort. What are you going to - sending them out to do?

KENNEDY: This is more than just Marines and sailors. We're working side-by-side with USAID and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. And they're giving us direction on how we can use these military assets to help facilitate distribution (unintelligible). So our first priority is to find a place where we could land even 30 airplanes.

WERTHEIMER: So what do you see as the most serious challenge to doing what you're trying to do?

KENNEDY: The challenge is we take for granted all of the infrastructure that goes into (unintelligible) an airfield. You need a tower. You need lights. You need electricity. You need gas. You need a space to offload your aircraft. You need people that have forklifts. You need all of that stuff, none of which is present. It's either destroyed - the infrastructure was destroyed, and all that equipment that you would use to service the aircraft are now washed out to sea or washed into the interior of the city.

WERTHEIMER: Can you give us a sense of how long it will take to get actual supplies of food and water and shelter to the people who need it? Do you have any kind of a timeline yet?

KENNEDY: The first aircraft flew in yesterday. They started offloading the supplies that I described. We back-loaded the plane with citizens that needed to get back to Manila, to the points that were less affected by the storm. And so, really, within about 36 hours, all of that flow started, and it's especially just a matter of building it up over time.

WERTHEIMER: What about the outlying areas? Is there any way to get to them yet?

KENNEDY: Well, to be honest with you, that concerns me the most. Tacloban looks like we'll be able to get the airfield back in working condition with the help of Philippines Armed Forces and the Civil Air Authority. That will happen. It's just a matter of time. The outlying areas have got significant challenges. The roads that connects these smaller municipalities are closed, only because there's trees and fire lines and there are structures lying across them. Virtually every tree along the southern coast of Samar, all the palm trees have been ripped out of the ground completely, like matchsticks, and they are strewn all across the what we call lines of communications. So all of those roads have challenges in getting them cleared.

What we will do - and it will be a dual effort with the Philippine government - we will start clearing those roads from Tacloban out to the southern reaches of Samar. As that's being cleared, we will start using our aircraft, our helicopters, to ferry supplies into these isolated towns, shoulder to shoulder with the Philippine Armed Forces and the government of Philippines.

WERTHEIMER: Brigadier General Paul Kennedy: He is coordinating the relief effort of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade in the Philippines. Thank you very much, sir.

KENNEDY: Thank you, Linda.

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