By Barbara Starr
The U.S. military relief effort in the storm-struck Philippines is expected by Sunday to have more than 30 land-based aircraft ferrying relief supplies, in addition to dozens of additional ship-based helicopters and heavy vehicles, according to military officials.
A third amphibious ship, the USS Denver, is now also on its way to the region devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, along with the USS Ashland and USS Germantown.
It is anticipated about 500 Marines will be on board the three ships to help with moving material to Philippine distribution points.
The ships, however, are not expected to arrive before November 19. The bulk of the Marines are expected to move back and forth from their ships as needed.
There are another 300 U.S. military personnel on the ground in Manila, Tacloban and Cebu assisting in operations.
All of the ships, including the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which is expected to arrive Thursday, will help with critical water purification needs, officials say.
The Pentagon has now named the effort “Operation Damayan,” which officials say translates to “help in time of need.”
The Marines expect to have a total of 14 MV-22 tilt rotor aircraft in the Philippines by Saturday.
The V-22, which takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane, is considered vital to reach remote and heavily damaged areas that may be great distances from airfields, beyond the reach of conventional helicopters.
This is the largest operational deployment of V-22s outside of Iraq or Afghanistan. They only began being based in the Pacific in the last several months.
There will also be more than a dozen C-130 cargo planes operating by the weekend.
The United States also wants to expand operations rapidly into Samar area northeast of Tacloban where some hard hit areas have not yet been reached.
As of Wednesday, about 170,000 pounds of aid including tarps, medical supplies, blankets and other items have been delivered. Five hundred evacuees have been flown from Tacloban to Manila.
The Pentagon has estimated the operation will cost about $4 million for the first 14 days.