WASHINGTON – The U.S. military is sending 600 Marines and Navy personnel to the Philippines (search) to assist in recovery efforts after recent storms left hundreds dead and displaced 200,000 from their homes.
The Pentagon said Tuesday that a 16-man assessment team from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force (search), based in Okinawa, arrived in the country Saturday. American and Filipino authorities established a base of operations at Clark Air Base (search), a former U.S. Air Force base on Luzon that was transferred to the Philippines in 1991.
Military officials said hundreds more Marines and sailors are en route from Okinawa. Transport planes and helicopters are also being sent.
"Our primary concern is to rapidly reduce the further loss of life and human suffering, and to enable Philippine forces to conduct sustained disaster management efforts," a Pentagon statement said. "U.S. forces will remain only as long as necessary for the Philippines to conduct sustained disaster relief operations."
The Marines will also provide potable water, medicine, tents, blankets and generators, the Pentagon said.
Most of the destruction was wrought by a tropical storm that blew through northeastern provinces Nov. 29, killing at least 689 people and leaving 715 missing. Typhoon Nanmadol struck the same region three days later, leaving 51 dead and 39 missing, according to revised figures by the Office of Civil Defense. Those figures included the 250 bodies recovered in Real, one of three coastal towns worst hit by flash floods and mudslides.
Damage to agriculture, fisheries and infrastructure was estimated at $55.7 million.
Over 200,000 people have been displaced, and 30,000 homes were destroyed, according to Pentagon estimates.
Washington and Manila have been allies in the war against extremist Islamic groups, with the United States sending military aid and advisers to the Philippines, which has an Islamic insurgency.
That relationship suffered this summer, however, when the Philippines gave into demands from hostage-takers in Iraq and withdrew its small contingent of troops in Iraq to secure the release of a captive truck driver. The move prompted strong criticism from Washington of President Gloria Macpagal Arroyo.