The U.S. military delivered more relief supplies to hungry cyclone survivors in one day than the Bangladeshi government and relief agencies have distributed in the 21/2 weeks since the killer storm struck, a U.S. admiral said Saturday.
Using a fleet of helicopters and hovercraft, the Americans have been able to ferry large quantities of rice, water and plastic sheeting for temporary shelters to remote islands and coastal villages. Many had been cut off since the storm.Maj. Gen. Henry Stackpole, the task force commander, said the final supply total for Friday was 265 tons - more than double the total for the two previous days combined. Soon, 300 tons of supplies a day would be delivered to survivors, he said.
Rear Adm. Stephen S. Clarey, commander of the seven-ship U.S. military Amphibious Task Group now in the Bay of Bengal, said "We've already moved more supplies over one day than they could move" since the cyclone devastated southeast Bangladesh on April 30.
"We're moving it as fast as they can give it to us," he said.
The 7,000-member task force dispatched by President Bush began arriving last Sunday, but the operation has only gotten under way in earnest recently.
Most of the relief supplies are arriving in the port city of Chittagong from the capital, Dhaka, either by truck or on U.S. Air Force C-130 transports.
On Saturday afternoon, Stackpole said, hovercraft operations were canceled because of strong winds and currents, but helicopters were still flying.
Weather also proved to be a problem during a relief mission to Sandwip Island on Friday night when winds suddenly picked up, Clarey said. A hovercraft was damaged while attempting to come ashore, he said.
"On the way in, lightning strikes . . . blinded them momentarily and they struck an object underwater and it made a routine tear in the skirt (around the hovercraft). We repair those things ourselves."
Peter Fenton, a spokesman for the relief agency CARE, said pilots have located some isolated houses on flooded lowlands and were dropping individual bags of rice to them.
Stackpole said he expects the amphibious task force to complete its operations on schedule after two weeks. By that time, he said, he expects 36 water purification units to be installed.
Key elements of the task force will remain to help pinpoint areas where longer-term international aid is needed, he said.
The Bangladeshis say more than 139,000 people were killed in the cyclone.