U.S. Ramps Up Aid As Naval Carrier Arrives In Philippines

Although the death toll from the typhoon disaster in the Philippines is still uncertain, it is known that hundreds of thousands of people are homeless, lacking food, water and even basic shelter. Just over a week after Typhoon Haiyan struck, the U.S. aid effort has now kicked into higher gear with the arrival off of the carrier USS George Washington and its support ships off the coast of the worst hit area, the island of Leyte.

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Now to the Philippines, where hundreds of thousands of survivors of last week's typhoon wait for help. Many have seen little or no aid. Government health officials there said people are living on coconut juice. U.S. efforts moved into high gear with the arrival of the aircraft carrier the USS George Washington and its support ships. NPR's Anthony Kuhn flew out to the carrier today and joins us now from Tacloban, one of the areas hardest hit.

And Anthony, just how did you get out to this carrier this morning, and what did you see along the way?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: You know, Audie, I just showed up at the airport in Tacloban and bumped into a couple of Marines who offered a ride. So I went with them, very spur-of-the-moment sort of decision. And we flew south for about 30 minutes. I saw, you know, turquoise waters and lagoons and coral reefs and these idyllic fishing villages, all of which had been devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, and the wind had just knocked these palm trees back, making them look like, you know, slicked-back hair or something, all in the same direction.

CORNISH: And tell us what's happening on the carrier itself, about the mobilization effort.

KUHN: Well, the carrier has been turned into a floating logistics hub to help with the relief effort. And I think one of the most interesting things that's going on is that the Philippine military is saying to the U.S. there are areas we're having difficulty getting to. And so Navy helicopters and Marine Osprey cargo planes that have come down from their base in Okinawa are flying to some remote areas that nobody has seen, nobody has gone there to assess the damage from the typhoon.

Sometimes they're just hand-carrying in helicopter loads of supplies to people who just have received nothing in almost a week since the typhoon, and the carrier has a lot of logistical muscle. They can also desalinate a tremendous amount of water to get it to people who have nothing to drink.

So a lot of countries' militaries are helping out with this, and we've seen other countries' planes and ships, but this USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group, with its support ships, is probably the biggest force of any country involved in the effort.

CORNISH: And Anthony, the U.S. is obviously ramping up this mission. Does it seem like there are more ships in the region? Are more on the way?

KUHN: Of all the U.S. carriers in the Navy, this is the only one that's deployed outside the continental U.S. It's based in Yokosuka, Japan. They were on shore leave in Hong Kong. That was abruptly ended, and it took them two days to cruise over. So this is part of what it means for the U.S. to be a Pacific power.

We have these Navy ships that are cruising around the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Western Pacific, and they're conducting exercises to prepare for just the sort of eventuality with militaries in the region. And that's a capability that very few countries have. And, you know, this forms a big part of what our military does in Asia.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn. He spoke to us from Tacloban. Anthony, thank you.

KUHN: Thank you, Audie.

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