Typhoon Haiyan: US sends more planes to Philippines

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States voiced optimism on Wednesday about reaching parts of the Philippines cut off by a massive typhoon as it sent more cargo planes and versatile Osprey aircraft to help.

The USS George Washington carrier and other Navy ships are on their way to the US ally and American has committed US$20 million (S$24.9 million), roughly half for food and the rest to prevent diseases in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

"I would say we are cautiously optimistic that we are starting to turn a corner on some of the logistics challenges," a US official told reporters on a conference call.

The Philippines faced a daunting task after the initial hit of the historically strong typhoon last week, with supplies piling up at the small airport in the flattened city of Tacloban.

The official said relief workers were now able to get more aid out of the airport and that the opening of a land route has provided a significant boost by connecting to a port.

"We are cautiously optimistic that that will be a pretty significant game-changer," he said.

The initial effort was "a lot like trying to squeeze an orange through a straw. We are now getting more straws, if you will, and bigger straws," he said.

Another US official said "well up over 1,000" American troops could be on the ground by the end of the week, up from around 300.

The US Marines Corps said four MV-22 Ospreys have left the US Futenma base in Japan, expanding the number of Osprey aircraft involved in the emergency work to eight.

Part helicopter and part plane, the Osprey can land and take off like a helicopter but fly at the speed of an airplane, covering four times the distance of a traditional chopper.

Eight MC-130 cargo aircraft, a variant of the Hercules plane, also were deployed to reinforce the relief operation for victims of Typhoon Haiyan, increasing the fleet of cargo planes to 12 to help with deliveries of food, water and other emergency items.

As of Tuesday, a team of US Marines already on the ground has delivered 129,000 pounds of relief supplies for the effort dubbed "Operation Damayan," or "Help in Time of Need." The USS George Washington, to arrive shortly, is escorted by two cruisers and a destroyer. It also comes with 11 helicopters as well as dozens of planes and the capacity to desalinate large volumes of water.

Another American destroyer and a supply ship were en route to the disaster zone and two amphibious ships, the USS Germantown and the USS Ashland, set off on Tuesday from the port of Sasebo in southern Japan.

The Germantown and the Ashland are equipped with landing craft and amphibious vehicles, medical facilities and desalination systems.

Another amphibious ship, the USS Denver, remains on standby in Sasebo for deployment, a Navy official said.

According to UN estimates, 10,000 people may have died in the typhoon and nearly 10 million people - or 10 per cent of the Philippines' population - have been affected.

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