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Ships, Planes from Several Nations Deliver Aid to Tsunami Victims

  • Scott Bobb

An international armada of military ships and planes is rushing to relieve suffering in parts of southern Asia hard-hit by Sunday's earthquake and tsunami. Soldiers and sailors are taking on relief duty.

Naval ships from the United States, Australia, India, and Singapore are steaming to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. They are carrying supplies, personnel, and construction equipment to areas devastated by the earthquake and killer waves five-days ago.

A member of the U.S. senior military command, General James Conway, says a disaster relief team has been sent to each of these three countries.

"Their task, of course, will be to make immediate assessment as to the nature and the scope of the impact of the disaster," he said.

A U.S. aircraft carrier group of four ships is deploying off the coast of northern Indonesia's Aceh province. Six ships will steam to Sri Lanka. And since Thursday, about two dozen cargo and search-and-rescue planes have been flying missions from a base in Thailand.

Thailand has been designated the hub of the U.S. effort. The head of the Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group, Colonel Jack Dibrell, says the U.S. planes have doubled the capacity of the Thai royal air force. They are airlifting relief supplies to the west coast, where thousands of people have been killed or injured.

"Phase one is primarily to give them [the Thai's] that lift capability and phase two may be, more and more, forces coming in to help them in the rebuilding and assessing where we can best apply the military assets that we have," he said.

Australia sent a navy ship carrying helicopters, construction equipment, and army engineers to Aceh to help reconstruction and relief efforts in devastated communities that have been cut off by damaged roads.

Commander Steve Woodhall aboard the ship Kanimbla says the crew is ready for its task.

"I think it is going to be difficult, but I have got a great team," he said. "They are well-trained and our military skills can be applied to these sort of disaster relief efforts and I am sure once we get these people ashore, we can make a difference."

Singapore is also sending a navy ship to Aceh with food, medical supplies, and bulldozers. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says 700 Singaporeans are being deployed and called it unprecedented effort for the nation of five million people.

"We have never done anything on this scale before," he said. "So we are pushing the limits of what we have done."

Relief experts say military fleets, with their large transport capacity, provide valuable support in moving large amounts of aid to devastated regions, and then distributing the aid to isolated populations. The U.S. ships also can produce tens of thousands of liters of badly needed clean water.

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