WASHINGTON – U.S. Marines rushed to deliver relief supplies to Haiti on Friday as Hurricane Tomas battered the small, impoverished country.
Speaking by telephone aboard the USS Iwo Jima, Lt. Col. Chris S. Richie said he planned to start sending helicopters Friday to assess humanitarian needs, but those flights were canceled after the storm turned into a hurricane.
"It's very important for us to get some eyes ... over ground — look at the main supply routes and road networks, flooded areas, pockets of displaced personnel that may be cut off from relief efforts," said Richie, head of a force that has been on a humanitarian mission in the Caribbean and Latin America since mid-July.
The State Department, meanwhile, said it had enough blankets, plastic sheeting, hygiene kits and other relief supplies already in place throughout Haiti to help as many as 125,000 storm victims.
Mark Ward, head of the department's office of foreign disaster assistance, told reporters that if those supplies are inadequate they can be supplemented from warehouses in Miami. He said the World Food Program has stockpiled food in 32 locations around Haiti and on a barge off the coast.
There are more than 500 Marines and roughly 1,100 other uniformed and civilian workers on the Iwo Jima, one of the Navy's largest amphibious assault ships. Those aboard include doctors, Navy engineers and experts in logistics.
Richie said the Marines will be part of a larger effort including the United Nations and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has already positioned some relief supplies in Haiti.
The Iwo Jima was pulled away from a visit to Suriname because of the emergency mission in Haiti.
Associated Press writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.