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U.S. forces continue to provide relief

By ASHLEY ROWLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 18, 2011

SEOUL — U.S. military personnel continued to deliver food, water and other supplies to tsunami-stricken Japan on Thursday, as 7th Fleet ships moved closer to the most devastated parts of the nation a week after a massive earthquake triggered a chain of disasters included a possible nuclear meltdown.

The 7th Fleet said Friday that aircraft and surface ships continued to conduct coastal search and rescue missions at sea and along the Miyagi and Iwate coasts, though snow and poor visibility limited helicopter operations. Helicopters from the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike group and Carrier Airwing Five from Naval Air Facility Atsugi conducted 10 sorties Thursday, delivering 10 tons of food and water.

Two P-3 Orion aircraft continued aerial survey missions on Friday in northern Honshu. Off the east coast of Iwate prefecture, the Reagan strike group continued humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations. The USS Blue Ridge, flagship for the United States 7th Fleet, was still near Okinawa on Friday morning but heading north.

On Wednesday, the USS George Washington delivered 100 Nuclear, Biological, Chemical firefighting suits and masks to the Japanese government for use at the failing Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant. Sasebo sent five high-pressure water pumps to the plant, where the Japanese are struggling to prevent a nuclear meltdown.

The USS Tortuga remained in the vicinity of Ominato in northern Honshu after delivering 93 vehicles and 273 Japan troops ashore Thursday. The ship transported the soldiers and their vehicles from Tomakomai, Hokkaido, to assist with the disaster recovery efforts.

The Tortuga will also transport 5,000 bottles of water and 5,000 Meals Ready to Eat to Misawa for distribution.

The USS Essex, USS Harpers Ferry, and USS Germantown with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit were scheduled to arrive off the coast of Akita prefecture on Friday to await further tasking. Marines of the 31st MEU have also established a Forward Control Element in Matsushima. A 7th Fleet press release said operating off the west coast of Honshu would give troops greater access to undamaged ports and roads, fewer navigational hazards, and put them upwind of Fukushima.

Helicopters from Carrier Airwing Five not deployed on ships will be moved in the coming days from Atsugi to Misawa Air Base in northern Honshu, to better position them aid missions. On Thursday, Carrier Airwing Five began relocating more than 50 tactical fixed-wing aircraft normally assigned to the Washington from Atsugi to bases in Okinawa and Guam to free ramp space at Atsugi that might be needed for ongoing missions.

rowlanda@pstripes.osd.mil

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