Marines bring in more than 65,000 pounds of relief to quake victims
By JAMES KIMBER AND SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 20, 2016
KUMAMOTO, Japan – Aftershocks again rocked buildings Wednesday as U.S. servicemembers continued to ferry supplies into the stricken region.
The Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived Monday at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni with four MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to assist the 20,000 Japanese troops Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent to the rural Kyushu prefecture.
Wednesday’s effort included shipping roughly 18,000 pounds of food, water and toiletries, bringing the week’s total to more than 65,000 pounds of aid. In all, the Marines have flown 10 missions with the Osprey and have more planned this week.
Because of the “speed and versatility,” the Osprey has “proven itself highly effective in disaster relief scenarios,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Chalkley, executive officer of the 31st MEU.
“The Osprey allows us to be positioned outside the congested disaster area in Iwakuni, quickly fly to the supply storage area in Kumamoto and then drop the supplies in a remote area with an unimproved landing site,” Chalkley said. “The Osprey provides immediate relief to those in dire need.”
The Osprey arrived in Japan four years ago under a cloud of controversy. The hybrid plane’s safety record was called into question, with proponents asking the Japanese government to reject its deployment.
No one was complaining about Osprey on Wednesday.
Curious onlookers at Hakusui Sports Park, a relief supply distribution point, watched the Ospreys land and take off from their sleepy part of town. Many recorded the show with their phones and tablets while waving enthusiastically as the U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers unloaded the needed cargo.
Elsewhere, police and volunteers guarded entrances to the grounds of the 450-year-old Kumamoto Castle in the center of town. Many of the walls and structures surrounding the castle have sustained severe damage from the series of earthquakes that have rattled the region since April 14.
Dozens of people left homeless by the quakes were taking shelter in a large downtown office building as Japanese soldiers cleared debris from the streets. Other troops, helped by high-school students were sorting through piles of water, food, blankets and other emergency supplies in a car park beside the castle.
Virtually all businesses in the city were closed, although electricity and water had been restored, trams and buses were running and petrol stations and convenience stores were open with limited stock.
Kumamoto Airport’s terminal had also reopened with commercial flights coming in and out.
Rail services also have resumed to Fukuoka, the island’s largest city, though trains are operating at a much slower speed than usual in certain stretches.