This story was updated at 12:10 p.m. to reflect new information:
Roughly 250 Marines and sailors with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade are on the ground in the Philippines as of Tuesday morning. Their chief mission is to support the Philippine military in lifting support materials into the disaster zone, as well as evacuating Americans and injured locals.Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, the III MEB commander, toured the disaster zone by plane shortly after arriving there.
“There were still many bodies in the streets, and almost every tree was uprooted or broken in that area,” he said, according to Capt. Caleb Eames, a spokesman for the Marines stationed in Okinawa, Japan. “The devastation was widespread. Extremely widespread.”
Rebuilding the airports and thus reopening the flow of support is among the Marines’ top priorities.
There is no timeline for how long the Marines will maintain their support mission.
The extent of the damage caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda differs from other recent disasters to which the Marines have responded, such as the 2011 tsunami that struck hundreds of miles of Japan’s coastline. Damage from that incident was limited to the coastal regions, and first responders could rely on undamaged airfields elsewhere in the region to launch support missions.
This latest catastrophe stems from a storm so powerful it penetrated deep into the Philippine islands, also eliminating regional airfields that Marines would use as a staging ground. Eames says the troops are relying heavily on the MV-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor helicopter/airplane hybrid that can hover and does not require a runway to take off or land.
Four Ospreys are already in the Philippines, and four more are en route, says Eames. Marines are also using five KC-130 Hercules transport aircraft.
This story was originally posted at 9:14 a.m.
Thousands of sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington were called back to the ship early from their Hong Kong port call to "make best speed" to the Philippines and help with the ongoing catastrophe there in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda.
The George Washington is one of six ships the Department of Defense has deployed to the region to assist with relief efforts, following a devastating superstorm on Nov. 8 that has killed thousands and shattered the island nation's infrastructure. Bodies remain rotting in the streets, according to some media reports, as local officials prioritize finding water, food, shelter and medical care.
A second wave of crisis in the form of spreading disease often follows such disasters. The U.S. has also deployed a Marine Corps contingent to the region to help with search and rescue, distribution of aid and security, and the United Nations has also pledged $25 million in relief efforts.
"The devastation has been huge," said John Ging, operations director of the U.N.'s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, on Monday. "All our efforts are on mobilizing very quickly and on responding on an equally massive scale."
Ging pointed to the importance of sending medical support, shelter support and food, but particularly water which has been brutally scarce.
"Clean drinking water is a very big priority right now," he said.
The makeshift group of Navy ships should arrive in the region within two or three days of Monday evening, according to Pentagon spokesman George Little. The George Washington, with its 5,000 sailors and 80 aircraft, will accompany two cruisers, the USS Antietam and the USS Cowpens, and destroyer the USS Mustin. A supply ship, the USNS Charles Drew and the USS Lassen are already en route and will link up with the convoy as it nears the Philippines.
Roughly 215 U.S.military personnel had already deployed there as of late Monday. U.S. Marine Corps, Pacific – headquartered in Hawaii – has sent aircraft including the MV-22 Osprey to the Philippines to help with delivering supplies and other logistics, as well as assisting in the ongoing search and rescue mission.
Correction 11/12/2013: This story has been updated to reflect new information on the number of Marines on the ground in the Philippines.