7th Fleet steps up relief efforts
SEOUL — As some military families in Japan prepared for voluntary evacuations, the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet continued humanitarian aid efforts over the weekend, despite cold weather and aftershocks as strong as 6.1 in magnitude.
Nearly 13,000 U.S. military personnel, along with 20 ships and 140 aircraft, are participating in Operation Tomodachi. As of Sunday evening, 7th Fleet forces had delivered 110 tons of relief supplies, with food, water and warm clothing topping the list of delivery priorities.
Large shipments of perishable food, including hotdogs and hamburgers, were arriving for distribution. Helicopter crews worked closely with one another and Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces to deliver the food to larger, more populated sites before it spoiled.
There were some positive developments amidst the devastation of the March 11 earthquake and tsunamis that killed thousands of people. Helicopter crews visited three sites Saturday that required no assistance – “a positive sign that ground-based relief efforts are starting to meet the needs of displaced persons,” according to a 7th Fleet news release.
Ships reported finding much less debris at sea than they did a week earlier, when large debris fields as far as 20 miles offshore made navigating difficult.
The USS Essex, USS Harpers Ferry and USS Germantown remained off the coast of Akita prefecture on Sunday morning. The Essex Amphibious Ready Group was to reposition in the vicinity of Kamaishi-ko in northeast Japan, according to the release. The ARG and the Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit were expected to focus their efforts in the Akita area in the coming days, using heavy-lift helicopters to deliver relief items ashore.
Helicopters carried materials to Hachinohe airport as well as to landing zones that mark shelters for displaced persons, the release said. Hachinohe serves as a staging point for further distribution of aid.
The USS Tortuga on Sunday was located off the coast of Hachinohe serving as an afloat forward service base for helicopter operations. Two MH-53s from HSM-14 picked up and delivered 15 tons of supplies from Misawa Air Base to Yamagata Station.
The USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group continued operations off the east coast of Iwate Prefecture. The USS Blue Ridge remained in the vicinity of Okinawa to conduct transfers of supplies and personnel to augment the staff.
Also, P-3 Orion aircraft from Patrol Squadron Four conducted one aerial survey mission along the east coast of Honshu on Sunday.