The U.S. military is putting a second mobile hospital into northwestern Pakistan to help earthquake victims through the fast approaching winter. The commander of the U.S. military relief effort provided an update by telephone from Islamabad to reporters at the Pentagon.
Rear Admiral Michael LeFever says relief operations are continuing, including hundreds of helicopter flights, despite a scare last week when one crew thought it had been fired on.
The admiral said it now appears the crew may have been wrong, and was reacting instead to an explosion on the ground related to efforts to clear a road. That was what Pakistani officials said at the time. The admiral says the results of an investigation are not conclusive, but his relief aircraft continue to fly anywhere they are needed in the country, including in the same area where the incident happened.
Admiral LeFever, who heads the U.S. military task force working on earthquake relief in Pakistan, says his force will increase from less than 1,000 to about 1,200 during the next few days, as he deploys a second field hospital to a hard-hit area in the Northwest Frontier Province.
"We are going to put another hospital up in the Shinkiari region," said Admiral LeFever. "This city was probably 90 percent leveled, so it is an important area up in this valley, where we expect some of the folks during the harsh winter to come down into prepared tent cities there. And we think the unit is going to be very busy."
That mobile hospital will have 65 beds and a staff of 10 doctors, six nurses and about 200 support staff. The admiral says a similar facility in Muzzafarabad has already treated 1,300 patients, including 125 who needed surgery. In addition, he says U.S. military medical personnel are working with the World Health Organization and other groups to fight disease outbreaks in camps for displaced people, and to provide immunizations against future outbreaks.
The admiral reports that U.S. and other foreign militaries are moving millions of kilograms of relief supplies around Pakistan, and bringing thousands of people to hospitals and tent camps. He says, the priority is on preparing for the winter in areas where millions of people have lost their homes.
"We are [in] a race against time, making sure we get the tents and blankets and heaters to those areas. Setting up camps, the U.N. is and the government of Pakistan," he said. "And then, the next priority, of course, is building up the reserves of supplies."
Admiral LeFever could not say how long U.S. military forces will be in Pakistan helping with the earthquake relief effort. He said that will be up to the Pakistani government.
But he said the effort is having an impact beyond the specific mission of earthquake relief. He says the U.S. military pilots, engineers and medical personnel are changing the view of the United States among Pakistanis they meet. As evidence, he said one of the most popular toys among children in the affected region has become a toy U.S. helicopter, something the admiral says would probably not have been true a couple of months ago.