31st MEU aids isolated Philippine towns after Super Typhoon Juan devastates area
USS ESSEX, off the coast of the Republic of the Philippines - Marines and Sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron 11 responded to the call of the government of the Philippines to help thousands of citizens affected by Super Typhoon Juan (international name Megi) Oct 21 - 23.
Super Typhoon Juan (international name Megi) entered the Republic of the Philippines with 150-mph winds, large waves and heavy rain on Oct. 18, causing extensive destruction to municipalities along the eastern coast of the Province of Isabela.
As the storm departed, the Philippine government requested assistance from U.S. forces already in the area for the Amphibious Landing Exercise 2011. Help was needed first in assessing the damaged areas, and determining local population needs, and Humanitarian Assistance Survey Teams from the 31st MEU were sent out.
The ships of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, the USS Essex (LHD 2), the USS Denver (LPD 9), and the USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), were positioned close to the east coast of Luzon to take advantage of the Navy-Marine Corps team’s helicopter lift capabilities. Once affected areas were identified, bilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations began in earnest.
The 31st MEU and PHIBRON-11 joined with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other non-governmental organizations to deliver food, water and other supplies to isolated villages which were destroyed by the super typhoon. The U.S. Marines and Sailors provided air support to transport tents, food and water to inaccessible areas as well as gave immediate medical aid to those who were injured.
“There are over 600,000 people affected in the Province of Isabela,” said Arnel Garcia, director, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Republic of the Philippines. “I am excited to see U.S. and Philippine forces working together for a common goal, which was to help those affected by this disaster.”
CH-53E Super Stallion and CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, landed at the staging area in the town of Cauayan and pre-staged supplies were loaded on to the aircraft.
Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU, set up an airfield departure and arrival control group at Cauayan in order to facilitate and track movement of Marines and supplies to the disaster areas.
From Cauayan, Marine aviation transported more than 40,000 lbs of dry goods to the isolated coastal villages of Palanan, Maconacon and Divilacan on the first day of operations.
After the storm destroyed roads, houses, bridges, schools and agriculture, the sight of Philippine and U.S. service members exiting helicopters with clean water, rice, biscuits, canned food, tents and other supplies, brought tears of joy to many locals’ faces.
“Many people lost their homes in this disaster,” said Garcia. “Of the 106,000 houses that were affected, over 28,000 were completely destroyed.”
The 31st MEU helicopters also flew aid workers and volunteers to the remote sites in order to provide assistance, as well as returned displaced locals to staging areas for assistance.
According to the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council the storm has affected more than 1.6 million people and the cost of the typhoon has exceeded $190 million. But the cost of lives lost cannot be measured. According to NDRRMC, the typhoon took 26 lives, and injured many others, some of whom are still receiving medical attention.
Lt. Col. Todd Simmons, commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 31st MEU, directed the initial HASTs as they examined affected areas to determine where aid would be delivered.
“Philippine and U.S. forces put in a tremendous amount of work and effort to get what was needed to the affected areas,” said Simmons.
In total, the 31st MEU flew 16 relief missions and transported more than 78,000 pounds of relief aid and 87 passengers. Six Marine helicopters flew over 55 hours to accomplish the mission of providing help to those who needed it most.
The 31st MEU remains always ready and always faithful to respond when called upon to conduct amphibious operations, limited contingency operations, crisis response and especially humanitarian aid and disaster relief in the Asia-Pacific area.