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01 January 2005

Tsunami Relief Support by U.S. Naval Forces to Expand

More ships with supply aircraft arriving soon, official says

U.S. naval forces are continuing to expand their logistical support of relief operations in the nations devastated by the recent Indian Ocean tsunami, a Pacific Command (PACOM) operations officer says.

Ships of the USS Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group will be arriving in the area within a day or two to augment the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Battle Group, already on the scene, Navy Captain Rodger Welch said January 1 at a briefing at the command’s headquarters in Hawaii.

In addition to offering logistical and transportation support to other U.S. agencies involved in the relief and to the host governments themselves, the ships and their crews will be able to provide direct help in the form of medical services, drinking water and other vitally needed items, he said.

Welch, chief of the command’s Joint Interagency Coordination Group, said the Lincoln group can provide a full medical department staffed by more than 40 personnel trained in mass casualty disaster response, as well as an operating room, several intensive care units and a 49-bed hospital ward.

While no casualties have been brought on board so far, he said, U.S. aircraft involved in the relief operation have been evacuating some of the survivors in impacted areas to the Utaphao air base in Thailand for medical attention.

As for water, Welch said, “All the ships have the capability to convert salt water into drinking water, as well as an ability to offload that water.  The volume involved can range into the tens of thousands of gallons a day depending on the ship, he said.

Welch also reported that a Navy environmental and preventative medicine unit from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii is sending a 31-person team to Indonesia to support the people of Sumatra.  That team “will be able to monitor water quality, food sanitation and mosquitoes, and will participate in disease outbreak surveillance and chemical analysis, he said.

The official said disaster assessment teams are continuing their work even as relief efforts get under way.

In Sri Lanka, for example, “We’re still in the process of flying reconnaissance missions to survey the damage, but we are starting to work on opening up airports and roads, Welch said.  He reported that “in Colombo, the primary hub there, they are in fact chockablock full of supplies awaiting delivery.

Similar operations in the Maldives are scheduled to begin early next week, he said.

Asked to characterize the size of the relief operation, Welch said, “In numbers of impacted countries and numbers of countries that are participating, this is by far the largest thing that we’ve done since I can remember. Pressed to be more specific, he added, “I can’t think of anything in the last 50 years that would equal this.

Welch stressed that, less than a week into the crisis, “We’re only beginning this effort. It will continue, he pledged, “until the host nations don’t need our help any more and can manage the problem themselves.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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