Exactly six months after Hurricane Gilbert left a trail of destruction in Jamaica, tons of food, clothing and medical supplies donated by Americans are still being carried aboard U.S. Air Force cargo jets to the island nation.
The Air Force's C-5A Galaxy - the largest jet in the Western world - is the primary carrier of supplies needed and welcomed in the tiny country that lost 46 of its people to the 150 mph winds and towering waves that battered the island on Sept. 12, 1988.Last week, a Jamaican-bound C-5A out of Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, Mass., transported 120,000 pounds of supplies - items like canned food, vitamins, stretchers and second-hand clothing - collected by private agencies in the United States.
"There are still about 1,000 of our people in shelters of some kind, either houses, churches or tent cities," Cmdr. John McFarlane, director of Jamaica's Office of Disaster Preparedness said as the supplies were unloaded from the C-5A. "We originally had more than 100,000 people in shelters, so there is progress."
Agencies like the West Indian Social Club of Hartford, Conn., the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia and a Roman Catholic medical facility in Camden, N.J., are among groups that continue to collect the supplies which the giant aircraft delivers.
Last week's trip was the 29th U.S. military aid mission and the third for the Westover-based C-5As.
The C-5A out of Westover picked up its cargo at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, which had been designated as a centralized collection point, said Gordon Newell, Westover's spokesman.
The cargo was immediately stored aboard the C-5A's cavernous hold, which could be mistaken for a basketball court if it were not for the conspicuous gears and devices used in the loading and unloading stage.
The C-5A used in last week's airlift is one of 16 jets in a squadron assigned to the 439th Military Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve at Westover.
After the jet landed at Norman Manley Field in Kingston, dozens of Jamaican soldiers and volunteers from humanitarian agencies unloaded the cargo and delivered it to a huge warehouse near the downtown area in the nation's capital city.
The concrete and steel warehouse, tucked away behind barbed wire fences in a rundown section of the city, was surprisingly packed with supplies from previous airlifts.
Though skeptical about discussing why the existing aid had not been delivered to the needy, Allyson Bent, director of the Jamaican agency responsible for distributing the supplies, admitted there have been problems getting the goods to outlying regions.
The unorganized distribution system became apparent when two men from an inland town about 75 miles from Kingston arrived to pick up supplies for their community but were asked to come back the next day when their needs could be assessed.