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Old 01-03-2005, 09:49 AM   #3

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As we speak:

One of the biggest US military disaster relief missions in history kicked into high gear today as an aircraft carrier battle group arrived off the shores of tsunami-battered Sumatra and began launching helicopters heavy with supplies. A flotilla carrying Marines and water-purifying equipment was heading for Sri Lanka, and a former staging base for B-52 bombers in Thailand roared with the takeoffs and landings of giant cargo planes. Two Seahawk helicopters from the USS Abraham Lincoln landed in Banda Aceh early today to begin getting badly needed relief supplies, including material for temporary shelters, into villages along Sumatra’s northwest coast. <...>

More than 20 vessels with thousands of sailors and Marines are being dispatched, along with some 1,000 land-based troops. The USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault vessel carrying Marines, and the Lincoln battle group were to lead the operations from the seas. Thailand’s Vietnam War-era air base of Utapao has become the airlift hub for the region. C-130 transport planes are already conducting sorties to Jakarta and the Sumatran cities of Medan and Banda Aceh, according to a statement today by the US Embassy in Jakarta.

US Navy medical staff are also on the ground in Meulaboh, a decimated fishing village where several thousand bodies have been recovered. The Navy is considering a request from Jakarta to establish a field hospital there. Elsewhere, nine C-130 transport craft took off yesterday from Utapao, a former staging area for B-52 bombers, to rush medical and other supplies to the stricken resorts of southern Thailand and the more distant airfields in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

A small team of Thai-speaking US Navy SEALs, US Army Special Forces personnel and military doctors have been at the battered resort of Phuket for several days. Along with the US military assets, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Japan are among the core of nations contributing ships or planes and helping plan relief operations.

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