Locals and foreigners board a U.S. military C-130 evacuation flight Tuesday following the massive Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, central Philippines. (Wally Santana/The Associated Press)
About 150 airmen with Air Force Special Operations Command are taking part in relief efforts in the Philippines, where Typhoon Haiyan made landfall Nov. 7.
The special operations airmen are working out of six locations: Clark Air Base in Angeles City, Manila, Taclabon, Ormoc, Guiuan and Borongan, Tech Sgt. Kristine Dreyer, a spokeswoman for the 353rd Special Operations Group said in an email.
“Currently, there are four MC-130s, several special tactics teams, medical, support, and maintenance personnel from the 353d Special Operations Group on the ground to support U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific and the Armed Forces of the Philippines during the aftermath of the typhoon,” AFSOC spokeswoman Lt. Col. Kristi Beckman said.
The AFSOC airmen are trained to respond to disasters like this, Beckman said Wednesday in an email.
One of their major tasks is making sure runways are lit so that planes with relief supplies can land at night.
“They can open airfields and ensure 24-hour control of aircraft bringing in much-needed supplies; they are trained paramedics who can take care of trauma victims; and they have the capability to medevac injured victims out as well,” Beckman said in an email. “They are also prepared and trained to conduct search and rescue missions and can go just about anywhere to assist Philippine efforts to rescue people who are in harm’s way trapped from fallen debris or stuck in buildings for example.”
The death toll, meanwhile, was raised Nov. 15 by disaster authorities to 3,621, up from the previous figure of 2,360. Some officials have projected that the eventual toll will top 10,000, after the missing are declared dead and remote regions are reached.
Hundreds of thousands of others are displaced. Relief supplies have been slow to reach those desperate for help, and unburied corpses pose a major health risk, according to media reports.
In an effort to increase the flow of much needed supplies to the disaster area, Pacific Air Forces has sent airmen from the 36th Contingency Response Group to determine if local airfields can accommodate C-17s, officials said. Twelve airmen are at Tacloban City and four airmen at Villamor Air Base in Luzon.
“PACAF maintains a significant capability forward deployed throughout the Asia-Pacific region ready to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” PACAF spokeswoman Maj. Jillian Torango said.
A three-member Air Component Coordination Element from PACAF is also in Manila to assist with planning for air operations, Torango said in an email.
“We are poised to provide additional support to U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific and the Philippine government to rapidly deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the areas the Philippine government deems most in need,” Torango said.