This weekend, the Philippines was hit by perhaps the strongest storm ever recorded. Typhoon Haiyan (aka Yolanda) destroyed the Philippines when it reached shore last Friday, wreaking damage on an unimaginable scale. Current projections estimate that nearly 10,000 people may have been killed in Tacloban, the capital of the island of Leyte.
Due to the grand levels of devastation and the fact that the Philippines are an island group, relief to the area has been hard to achieve. In fact, relief efforts thus far have been so deplorable that Valerie Amos, U.N. humanitarian chief, has stated, “I do feel that we have let people down because we have not been able to get in more quickly. I think we are all extremely distressed that … we have not managed to reach everyone.”
As a result of the horrendous plight currently facing the Filipino people and the overburdened U.N., Secretary of Defense for the US, Chuck Hagel, announced on Monday that the US would be sending the George Washington Strike Group to the area in order to assist with relief efforts. The strike group consists of 7 ships total: Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers USS Cowpens and USS Antietam, Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Lassen and USS Mustin, and Clark-class dry cargo ship USNS Charles Drew, Pathfinder class oceanographic survey ship USNS Bowditch, submarine tender USS Emory S. Land (AS-39), and the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington: “Specifically, the aircraft carrier, USS George Washington and the cruisers USS Antietam and USS Cowpens will go to a position just off the eastern coast of Samar island in order to begin to assess the damage and provide logistical and emergency support to include medical and water supplies,” stated Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, commander of the George Washington Strike Group.
The ships will all be participating in Operation Damayan, which is Tagalog (Filipino language) for “solidarity.” The participation of the USS George Washington is crucial due to its capabilities. The ships currently holds over 5,000 soldiers and 80 aircraft, 21 of which are helicopters which will be key in lifting supplies to areas in which roads have become unnavigable.
Besides serving as a floating airport, the USS George Washington has a distilling plant on-board which can distill up to 400,000 gallons of water per day, a pivotal tool in providing relief to those who have potentially been without food or water for the past 6 days. Today, the USNS Charles Drew helped to mitigate food and water concerns by transporting 11 pallets of supplies to the Tacloban airfield – 8 pallets containing 1,920 gallons of water and the other 3 containing food.
As Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery stated, “One of the best capabilities the Strike Group brings is our 21 helicopters. These helicopters represent a good deal of lift to move emergency supplies around.” The helicopters may prove extremely useful in allaying the burden of choice placed upon the mayor of Tacloban when deciding whether to use his trucks for food supply or body transport: “It’s scary. There is a request from a community to come and collect bodies, they say it’s five or 10. When we get there, it’s 40,” Mayor Alfred Romualdez commented.
In addition to the aid sent with the George Washington Strike Group, the United States has pledged $20 million in direct aid to the Philippines. However, this makes only a slight dent in the figure estimated by the UN needed to complete disaster relief – a whopping $301 million.
If one is looking to contribute to relief efforts personally, donate money to the Red Cross or UNICEF, two organizations intimately involved in the relief efforts. (UNICEF also recently did an AMA on Reddit detailing what goes on behind the scenes with relief efforts and organizations.)[Image via Wikimedia Commons]