U.S. military speeds aid to devastated areas in Pacific
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Military advance teams from the Pacific prepared for broad humanitarian operations in earthquake-stricken Indonesia, while ships full of sailors and Marines landed Monday in the flood-ravaged Philippines.
Even as the military waits for more clarification from the Indonesian government on the extent of its role, humanitarian assistance teams scouted battered villages and a new rapid response medical unit deployed from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
A survey team headed for three landslide-covered villages along the Batang Mangua River in remote Western Sumatra on Monday, said Navy spokesman Chief Petty Officer Ty Swartz via phone from Jakarta, Indonesia.
One small road connects the villages, located in the Padang, Pariaman district, he said. The survey team is determining what combination of bridges, airlifts or other means it needs to deliver basic supplies to people trapped there.
“A lot of buildings have pancaked and they’re also trying to figure out if they’re stable enough for people to go back into their houses,” Swartz said. “A lot of people are living in their yards.”
Indonesia was hit with a 7.6-magnitude earthquake last Wednesday and also has been drenched by torrential rains. The United Nations has put the death toll at 1,100, while the Indonesian government has said more than 600 people have died and nearly 1,000 are missing, according to The Associated Press.
The Sasebo, Japan-based USS Denver will support the Indonesia mission and should arrive within two days, officials said. The Yokosuka, Japan-based USS McCampbell will join the Denver, said Navy 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Jeff Davis.
The USS Denver is bringing three CH-53 helicopters capable of heavy-lifting supplies to rural areas of Indonesia, Davis added.
Earlier, a 16-person advance party, including Task Force 76 commander Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, visited the devastated areas and met with State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development officials, Davis said.
The USS Denver is on its way from the Philippines, where it offloaded personnel and supplies in Manila to assist with the aftermath of Typhoon Parma and Tropical Storm Ketsana.
The dock landing ships USS Harpers Ferry and USS Tortuga also arrived in Manila on Sunday with 2,900 sailors and Okinawa-based 31st Expeditionary Unit Marines, as well as trucks, helicopters and landing craft.
Meanwhile, the Air Force was scheduled to send its new Humanitarian Assistance Rapid Response Team, or HARRT, from Andersen to Indonesia on Monday afternoon, said 36th Wing spokesman Tech. Sgt. Brian Bahret.
The team can treat 250 to 350 patients per day for five days before needing more supplies and replacement staff, officials told Stars and Stripes in August.
In addition to medical workers, the team includes airmen who can help re-establish damaged airfields and arrange medical evacuations for patients who need advanced hospital care.
The Air Force spent $1.2 million on medical equipment and training to set up HARRT.
“In the past, we’ve had other structures like this, but they were much larger,” Bahret said. “Because they were larger, they were slower moving.”
The HARRT team acts as a first-response team until the larger units can arrive and is designed to be on the ground at a disaster area in 72 hours, Bahret said. They completed their test run by treating non-emergency patients on Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia last month.