The Marines will use MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which have vertical takeoff and landing and short takeoff and landing capabilities. The airport in Tacloban, the capital of Leyte island where some Philippine officials estimate as many as 10,000 people may be dead, is not yet able to accommodate large planes.
A U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific spokesman said the MV-22 “can operate in austere environments. Its ability to convert quickly to fixed-wing configuration gives it greatly increased speed and range over traditional rotary wing aircraft.”
The team from the Okinawa-based 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade will focus on the search for survivors and logistic support for the unfolding humanitarian mission.
Two U.S. Navy P-3 Orion aircraft, currently on a six-month rotation in Japan in support of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, will also be used to help the Philippines Armed Forces’ search and rescue operations.
The Pentagon said earlier that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had instructed U.S. Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to the Philippines, with an initial focus including airborne and maritime search and rescue, and helicopter and fixed-wing lift support.
The U.S. Agency for International Development announced an immediate initial grant of $100,000 for health care, clean water and sanitation for hard-hit areas, as well as emergency food and shelter materials.
A USAID response team visiting Leyte to assess damage and determine humanitarian needs reported that in some areas 90 percent of the housing has been destroyed or significantly damaged.
The International Rescue Committee dispatched an emergency team to Manila and launched a $10 million appeal in order to implement the most appropriate response in consultation with the Philippine government.
The U.N. humanitarian aid coordination office originally cited government estimates that 4.3 million people across 36 provinces had been affected by the disaster, with a proviso that a more detailed picture would emerge as more areas were reached. A subsequent government assessment raised the figure of affected people to 9.5 million in 41 provinces.
The government has yet to issue an official death toll – its website still reads 229 dead, 28 missing – but the Philippine Red Cross reported at least 1,200 deaths, with that number expected to rise significantly. The 10,000 figure came from the Leyte police chief, citing the provincial governor.
Although the full scale of loss of life and damage caused by the powerful winds and a 20-foot storm surge remains unclear, Typhoon Haiyan (known in the Philippines as Yolanda) may turn out to be the deadliest natural disaster on record for a country scattered across more than 7,000 islands and vulnerable to typhoons as well as earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.
Because of its susceptibility to natural calamities, the Philippines is better prepared than some countries in the region, with disaster awareness programs, early-warning systems and frequent drills. But the scale of some disasters easily overwhelm the preparations.
Previously, the deadliest tropical storm was one in 1991 that caused around 6,000 deaths, while a 1976 tsunami triggered by an earthquake killed between 5,000 and 8,000 people.
According to the Marine Corps Forces Pacific, the U.S. government has responded to more than 40 natural disasters in the Philippines since 1990.
The Philippines is the oldest of America’s five treaty allies in Asia (the others are Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Australia) and has been seeking closer military-to-military relations in recent years, in part related to concerns about Chinese sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.
President Obama was scheduled to visit while on a regional tour last month that was canceled due to the government shutdown. It would have been the first presidential visit since 2003, when President Bush became the first American leader in more than 40 years to address a joint session of the Philippine Congress.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who stood in for Obama at regional summits in Indonesia and Brunei, was due to visit Manila on October 11-12 in the president’s stead, but at the last minute that visit was canceled too, due to an approaching tropical storm. At the time he promised to reschedule quickly, “within a month or so.”
“Having so recently had my own visit to the Philippines prevented by another powerful storm, I know that these horrific acts of nature are a burden that you have wrestled with and courageously surmounted before. Your spirit is strong,” Kerry said in a weekend statement addressed to the Philippine people.
Obama in a condolence statement also spoke of “the incredible resiliency of the Philippine people.”
“The United States is already providing significant humanitarian assistance, and we stand ready to further assist the government’s relief and recovery efforts,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the millions of people affected by this devastating storm.”
Typhoon Haiyan, now downgraded to a severe tropical storm, hit northern Vietnam on Monday. The government earlier evacuated some 600,000 people in areas thought to be at risk, and a national television channel said six people had died in central Vietnam as a result of flooding and heavy rains caused by the storm.