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Pentagon Launches Massive Relief Operation to Help Hurricane Victims

The Pentagon is launching a massive operation to help search-and-rescue efforts and provide medical care for the victims of Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast of the United States.

The U.S. military is mobilizing equipment and manpower to help survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Air Force Major Eric Butterbaugh told VOA's Talk to America program that the U.S. Northern Command will coordinate the effort.

"A joint task force has been established, Joint Task Force Katrina, and that coordinates all of the federal military, whether it is the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, any assets that would be needed," he explained. "So that is in place and we are moving very quickly to help and assist people in need."

The Pentagon is playing a support role for the disaster relief effort led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

Major Butterbaugh says the military is converging on the area with a large variety of resources.

"Through the U.S. Northern Command we are supporting FEMA in a number of ways, providing unique assistance that the military has to mitigate the effects of, as we have seen, of this terrible disaster," he said. "In a number of ways, with special equipment, with aircraft, ships, anything that we can be of assistance to FEMA to help the states in the aftermath of this tragedy."

About 50 helicopters are on their way to help with rescue efforts along the coast and in the city of New Orleans.

More than 30 military helicopters are already searching for survivors in the devastated areas of the U.S. southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Swift water rescue teams are also on the way to help save people who are stranded by the floodwaters, collapsed bridges and washed out roads.

The Pentagon says about 8,500 members of the National Guard are engaged and providing assistance.

The Navy's hospital ship Comfort, with 12 operating rooms and 1,000 beds, is expected to arrive off the coast early next week. Four other Navy ships have been dispatched to the Gulf Coast, carrying drinking water and other emergency supplies.