Friday, December 31, 2004

Survivor Sabri (no last name provided) tried to salvage what was left of his stall at a commercial area in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, today, following Sunday's devastating earthquake-triggered tsunami, which killed at least 80,000 people in Indonesia.

57 Hawaii personnel
to join in relief effort

Thirty-one Pearl Harbor public health specialists and 26 Hawaii Air National Guard security personnel will leave this weekend for southern Asia to help in the earthquake and tsunami relief effort.

Capt. Gail Hathaway, commander of Navy Environment and Preventive Medicine Unit 6, said yesterday this is the largest deployment for her 39-member force.

"Thirty-one of my 39 people will be going, and I already have six in Iraq," she said.

The team of doctors, entomologists and public health, environmental health and industrial health specialists is expecting to spend at least 45 days in Aceh, which is Sumatra's northernmost province and the scene of the largest number of victims from Sunday's disaster.

About 80,000 people were confirmed killed in Aceh, but officials now expect the death toll there to pass 100,000. The provincial capital of Banda Aceh was mostly destroyed.

"The epicenter of the earthquake was just off the coast of this province," said Cmdr. Fred Landro, a Navy public health doctor who will lead the team.

Yesterday, 26 Hawaii Air National Guard personnel, all members of the 154th Security Forces, were alerted to assist with relief and recovery operations.

Maj. Chuck Anthony, Hawaii National Guard spokesman, said there is a possibility that another 13 Air Guard personnel could be mobilized. The security force is expected to be airlifted on military cargo jets this weekend to Utapao, an airfield in Thailand that has become the home of the Pacific Command's Joint Task Force 536, which is coordinating the military relief effort.

Also involved in search-and-recovery operations is a P-3 Orion sub hunter, assigned to VP-4 at Kaneohe Bay, which is working out of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

The Navy and Hawaii Air National Guard personnel are among the 20,000 people whom the Pacific Command could use in the relief effort, Capt. Roger Welch, the command's operations director, said at a Camp Smith news conference yesterday.

The Kaneohe P-3 is one of nine being used in the recovery phase of the operation, Welch added. Four are assigned to Utapao, and five to Diego Garcia.

Two specialized teams comprising military and civilian specialists in the fields of mortuary affairs and forensic science left Hawaii for Thailand on Wednesday night.

Welch said the biggest task now is "to determine what kind of assistance these countries need."

"We will provide as much help as we can for as long as we're needed," Welch said. "It's a disaster of unfathomable proportions."

The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln strike group, with its flotilla of five warships and 8,000 sailors and Marines, is now in the Straits of Malucca ready to help, Welch said. The USS Bonhomme Richard expeditionary strike group is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka in five to seven days. The vessels are carrying water, food, medical supplies, other relief supplies and heavy equipment, he said.

Landro said his public health team will be taking along 17,000 pounds of test equipment, generators and various sprayers to ward off malaria and other tropical diseases.

"Our mission is to first restore public health to the disaster area, and then working with the Indonesian government assist in disaster management," said Landro, a 23-year Navy veteran.

East-West Center Tsunami Relief page
American Red Cross Hawaii
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

U.S. Pacific Command

E-mail to City Desk


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