U.S. Marines Arrive In Nepal To Distribute Earthquake Assistance
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's go next to Nepal, where United States Marines have arrived. They will help the recovery from an earthquake that left more than 7,000 people dead and far more than that homeless. Many say basic supplies are not reaching them. NPR's Julie McCarthy is covering this story from Kathmandu. She's been speaking with the commander of the newly arrived U.S. Marines. And Julie, what is their job?
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, the Marines are really here to supplement the national relief effort. What - they do come, Steve, with this unique air capability. Then they've come from Okinawa, where they've been on standby for days. They've come with four MV-22 Osprey aircraft. People may know these as these tilt-rotorcraft that can take off and land vertically. So, of course, those would be very handy in these hard-to-get places, and they will be used to transport disaster relief to places like the remote villages in and around the epicenter.
You know, Nepal's response has been held back by a lack of helicopters, so this sort of lift that the Americans bring in coordination with the USAID is really going to help them now. I spoke with Brigadier General Paul Kennedy, the commanding general of the Third Marine Expeditionary Brigade stationed in Okinawa, and he told us that finding trapped people alive is reaching an end and that this mission will be focusing on delivering aid. Here's Brigadier General Paul Kennedy.
BRIGADIER GENERAL PAUL KENNEDY: Probably the most pressing need is shelter. We're going to start pushing those shelters out to the most remote areas so people can get undercover before these monsoons kick in in about six weeks. And so if they have food stocks, if they have whatever possessions they have recovered exposed to the elements, we want to get that undercover as quickly as possible.
INSKEEP: So that's their goal, but Julie, you mentioned they were on standby for days before they could get into Nepal. What was the hang-up?
MCCARTHY: Well, one very big hang-up here - and it's a challenge that not only the Americans face but every country trying to get in here - is infrastructure. Kathmandu has this tiny, little airport, in effect one runway, and it can't accommodate all the loads of aid that have been coming in here, never mind these enormous C-130s that the Americans are bringing in here. So - and from time to time, they're closing that airport, and aid has been piling up.
Now, added to that is a confused response on the part of the government. It has been blamed for a poor coordination of this disaster response. This is - but, you know, this is a tiny place. It's overwhelmed by this, and the quake victims are certainly the ones to tell you that. Very loudly, they complain that they're not getting clean water, they're not getting shelter and medical services, they say, are a very short supply.
INSKEEP: Well, are U.S. officials who say they would like to help also saying the government is keeping them from helping because it's not too competent?
MCCARTHY: Well, no. No one is going - no one will say that certainly, Steve. There's a lot of diplomacy. There's a lot of delicate diplomatic and political relations that are at stake in any disaster. But interestingly, the head of USAID and the U.S. military told us today they've been planning their response in the event there was a disaster just like this in Nepal for the past couple of years to make sure they had these contingencies and that they could move quickly. The U.S. Marines have been on standby in Japan since the quake occurred, and Brigadier General Kennedy indicated that the Americans just can't rush in.
KENNEDY: We maintain the relationships that have been carefully forged over the years and that when they call that our response isn't slow because we were not ready. We don't feel as though we came late to this party. We feel as though when they asked for us to come and they were ready to receive us that we were on the spot.
MCCARTHY: You know, there has been this huge mobilization by other countries who have brought in mobile hospitals, doctors, shelters, supplies of all sorts. You have this whole array of international aid agencies who are dispensing medical care and purifying water and clearing roads. And the government now says they're going to shift the focus outside from Kathmandu to the outlying harder-hit areas, and they're telling aid workers, leave the country unless you're going to go to the rural areas where the help is now really needed most.
INSKEEP: Julie, thanks very much.
MCCARTHY: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That NPR's Julie McCarthy in Kathmandu.
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