Navy, Marines Mobilize To Help Philippines By Air

The U.S. is using Navy helicopters and Marine Osprey cargo planes to get to remote typhoon-ravaged Philippine islands in areas that have been hard to reach. The coordinated effort is a complicated dance.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The effort to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has turned into a widespread international effort. Around two dozen countries are providing manpower and supplies. The U.S. contribution has now grown to include an aircraft carrier strike group and the U.S. Marines. NPR's Anthony Kuhn visited the carrier and went on a mission with the Marines. He filed this report.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: I'm heading out on a Navy helicopter to the USS George Washington, which recently arrived off the coast the Philippines with the supporting ships of its strike group. I head below deck to meet the ship's public affairs officer, Lieutenant Commander James Stockman. He explains how the carrier serves as a floating logistics hub.

LIEUTENANT COMMANDER JAMES STOCKMAN: The strike group has approximately 20 helicopters that we're using between the carriers, and of course our escort ships, and they are ferrying supplies. Now, primarily, is going to Tacloban airport, 'cause that's the main hub. But some of our helos have gone to the more remote location. And, like I said, it dropped off, you know, medical supplies, food, water, etc.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right. We are landing aircraft...

KUHN: Up on the flight deck, I meet Petty Officer Third Class Jacob Kaiser. The George Washington can desalinate huge volumes of water. Kaiser helped build an eight-headed spigot to put the water in jugs, which are delivered to the typhoon survivors.

All right. Show me how it works.

PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS JACOB KAISER: Pretty much, potable water comes up from the flight deck, we run it through the hose, and then it comes through each individual spigot. You watch out. We can turn them on...

KUHN: The following day, I take off from Tacloban airport on a Marine Corps Osprey plane. The Osprey takes off vertically like a helicopter, then its rotors tilt forward and it roars ahead like a plane. The Ospreys land in a grassy field in neighboring Samar Province. The crowed at the field's edges erupt into cheering. Local authorities have to hold them back to keep them from rushing the planes. As the Marines unload relief supplies, I got to talk with Constancia Elaba, a retired civil servant. What is the situation, in terms of food that you have; food and water, electricity. What do you have?

CONSTANCIA ELABA: Oh, yes. We are in need of water, food, medicine and everything because we are actually devastated with the typhoon.

KUHN: She says this is actually not the first aid delivery to their. They have also had some...

ELABA: ...from the U.S. Navy. We are so happy of that. We are so happy.

KUHN: Despite help from the U.S., relief has been slow to reach destitute survivors. The Philippines has its own helicopters and cargo planes, but presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang says that the Ospreys can reach remote areas quicker. The U.S. military has offered to keep its forces in the Philippines as long as is necessary to help with relief efforts. Ricky Carandang welcomes that offer.

RICKY CARANDANG: We're glad that they've sent that because we would like to keep them around as long as they're needed. Difficult to say at this point exactly how long that's going to be. But while the relief is going on and while we're still in this initial emergency stage, I don't think anybody would question the helpfulness of the American presence here.

KUHN: There are some critics who think that the U.S. relief could be use to justify a bigger U.S. military presence in the Philippines. The Philippines are currently embroiled in a maritime territorial dispute with China. But Carandang says any talk of geopolitics will have to wait until the typhoon relief efforts are finished. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Tacloban.

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