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Two C-130 transport planes are loaded with supplies from the U.S. Agency for International Development, whose members will distribute the items to refugees fleeing the conflict in Libya. The supplies were loaded in Pisa, Italy, where the USAID houses materials at nearby Camp Darby.
Two C-130 transport planes are loaded with supplies from the U.S. Agency for International Development, whose members will distribute the items to refugees fleeing the conflict in Libya. The supplies were loaded in Pisa, Italy, where the USAID houses materials at nearby Camp Darby. (Seth Robbins/Stars and Stripes)
Two C-130 transport planes are loaded with supplies from the U.S. Agency for International Development, whose members will distribute the items to refugees fleeing the conflict in Libya. The supplies were loaded in Pisa, Italy, where the USAID houses materials at nearby Camp Darby.
Two C-130 transport planes are loaded with supplies from the U.S. Agency for International Development, whose members will distribute the items to refugees fleeing the conflict in Libya. The supplies were loaded in Pisa, Italy, where the USAID houses materials at nearby Camp Darby. (Seth Robbins/Stars and Stripes)
U.S. Agency for International Development boxes containing collapsible water jugs, blankets and plastic sheeting are loaded onto a C-130 transport plane, part of Ramstein Air Base, Germany's 37th Airlift Squadron.
U.S. Agency for International Development boxes containing collapsible water jugs, blankets and plastic sheeting are loaded onto a C-130 transport plane, part of Ramstein Air Base, Germany's 37th Airlift Squadron. (Seth Robbins/Stars and Stripes)
Airman 1st Class Sandy Lee, of the 37th Airlift Squadron, secures humanitarian supplies before loading them onto a C-130 transport plane. The cargo was loaded at Pisa, Italy, where the USAID houses materials at nearby Camp Darby.
Airman 1st Class Sandy Lee, of the 37th Airlift Squadron, secures humanitarian supplies before loading them onto a C-130 transport plane. The cargo was loaded at Pisa, Italy, where the USAID houses materials at nearby Camp Darby. (Seth Robbins/Stars and Stripes)
Airmen from the 37th Airlift Squadron and the 435th Airlift Mobility Squadron unload cargo from the U.S. Agency for International Development at Tunisia’s Djerba Zarzis airport. The supplies will be distributed to refugees who have fled the escalating violence in Libya.
Airmen from the 37th Airlift Squadron and the 435th Airlift Mobility Squadron unload cargo from the U.S. Agency for International Development at Tunisia’s Djerba Zarzis airport. The supplies will be distributed to refugees who have fled the escalating violence in Libya. (Seth Robbins/Stars and Stripes)
Airmen from the 37th Airlift Squadron and the 435th Airlift Mobility Squadron slide a palette of supplies from the U.S. Agency for International onto a forklift at Tunisia’s Djerba Zarzis airport.
Airmen from the 37th Airlift Squadron and the 435th Airlift Mobility Squadron slide a palette of supplies from the U.S. Agency for International onto a forklift at Tunisia’s Djerba Zarzis airport. (Seth Robbins/Stars and Stripes)

DJERBA,Tunisia —Two C-130 transport planes from Ramstein Air Base in Germany landed at Djerba-Zarzis International Airport here late Friday, bringing with them supplies intended to aid the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the ongoing conflict in Libya.

On board the planes were hundreds of boxes containing 4,000 blankets, 9,600 collapsible water jugs and 40 rolls of plastic sheeting. The boxes were from the U.S. Agency for International Development, whose members will distribute the materials along the border near the Tunisian city of Djerba this weekend.

The scope of the crisis inside Libya is not known; areas controlled by Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces have not been open to media or humanitarian organizations. But according to the European Commission, since Feb. 21, more than 83,000 refugees have crossed into Egypt, and as many as 100,000 have sought help in Tunisia.

Working throughout the early morning hours Friday, dozens of airmen prepared the two C-130J Super Hercules aircrafts, which are part of Ramstein’s 37th Airlift Squadron. The squadron is tasked with providing air support to U.S. Africa Command, which leads missions on the continent.

“This is my first active disaster with this unit,” said Capt. Jason Powell, with the 435th Air Mobility Squadron. “It’s very complex, but it shows our ability to help those in need.”

Early Friday, the planes took off for Pisa, Italy, where the USAID houses its materials in warehouses at nearby Camp Darby. Alberto Chidini, coordinator of Camp Darby’s Humanitarian Assistance Program, brought the cargo to the flightline there, watching as the boxes were loaded. He said he received the call about preparing the shipment Thursday afternoon.

“I’ve seen the reports,” he said. “Supplies are lacking.”

Several hours later, the planes took off for the Tunisian airport, but delays there halted the process of unloading. Finally, as the sun’s rays descended behind the vast desert, the first of the six pallets were dropped onto the forklifts.

The airmen unloaded the last of the cargo in the wind and dark.

According to the U.N. refugee agency, an estimated 80,000 to 90,000 people, mainly foreign workers, have fled to neighboring Tunisia to escape the escalating violence in Libya between government troops and rebels pushing to oust longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama outlined his plans to help those fleeing Libya. Getting them the USAID supplies was the first wave in that effort.

While Egypt has the resources to process the refugees, the situation in Tunisia is considered a crisis, and several European nations are also using planes for flying supplies in and refugees out.

According to some media reports, 30,000 refugees tried to enter Tunisia over two days this week. A transit camp was set up on the Tunisian side of the border for refugees waiting for onward transport.

robbinss@estripes.osd.mil

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