Local Marines, Sailors Head For Disaster Areas
The most powerful earthquake in 40 years erupted under the Indian Ocean near Sumatra on Dec. 26, 2004. It caused giant, deadly waves to crash ashore in nearly a dozen countries, killing tens of thousands. A long stretch of Sri Lanka's coast was devastated by these killer waves, with more than 40,000 dead and staggering 2.5 million people displaced. Although 1,600km from the epicentre, the waves struck with huge force and swept inland as far as 5 kilometers. Waves as high as six meters had crashed into coastal villages, sweeping away people, cars and even a train with 1700 passengers. It was the worst human disaster in Sri Lanka history.
Politics As USual
Galle on the West coast is the focus of operations of three Indian Naval ships and the U.S. Marine survey team. Several hundred U.S.Marines were to be deployed there to provide ``limited engineering capability'' for repairing roads and other damaged infrastructure, as well as help in the distribution of food. The Bonhomme Richard, U.S. navy’s multi purpose assault ship carrying more than 1,300 Marines, with five hovercraft and 20 helicopters sailed off a few days back to provide assistance to Sri Lanka. Its presence in Sri Lanka would have tremendously boosted the capability of Sri Lanka forces. But Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who had second thoughts in view of LTTE (and probably JVP) objections to the presence of U.S. troops, scaled down her request for help. Now only U.S. helicopters will be involved in the relief work. As a result of this, the Bonhomme Richard and another U.S. naval ship USS Duluth cancelled plans to participate in relief work in Sri Lanka and have instead joined the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its battle group off Sumatra. The USS Mount Rushmore, carrying a smaller contingent of Marines, is expected to reach Sri Lanka shortly. But the presence of a US battle group in the proximity of Sri Lanka is still militarily significant.
The Marines To The Rescue
By: DARRIN MORTENSON - Staff Writer
Nearly 6,000 local Marines and sailors who left San Diego for the Persian Gulf earlier this month have been diverted to aid survivors of the massive tsunamis that struck Southeast Asia earlier this week, military officials said Tuesday.
The Marines of Camp Pendleton's 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and sailors of the Navy's seven-vessel Expeditionary Strike Group Five had stopped on the U.S. territorial island of Guam for a holiday stop-over when they received a call to rush to Sri Lanka to aid victims of the massive tidal waves.
Sri Lanka was one of 10 countries where the coasts were inundated by huge tidal waves generated by an earthquake in the Bay of Bengal on Sunday.
The Associated Press has reported more than 58,000 people were believed dead from the quake and the waves, and the toll continued to climb Tuesday.
"The Bonhomme Richard ESG has been directed to move to the Indian Ocean region to possibly be used to assist in relief efforts in the area," said Lt. Col. Bill Bigelow, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii.
The strike group, which departed from San Diego on Dec. 6, will provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the governments of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and other affected nations, according to the Navy.
The San Diego-based strike group, as well as the armada attached to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, were in a position to rush to the region hardest hit by the devastating waves, officials said.
According to Guam's Pacific Daily News ---- which had been touting the possibility that Marines and sailors would spend about $4 million on the island over the New Year's weekend ---- the strike group's flagship USS Bonhomme Richard and the USS Rushmore docked in the island's main Harbor on Monday.
The Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship carrying about 1,500 Marines and 1,000 sailors, and the Rushmore, which was carrying about 600 Marines and 300 sailors, were scheduled to remain in port in Guam through Sunday.
Instead of preparing for a party, however, Marines on Tuesday bought up lumber, saws, shovels and other building materials from a local Ace Hardware in Anigua, Guam, to be loaded aboard their ships, according to the newspaper.
Military officials would not say what the sudden diversion of troops and ships to Southeast Asia would do to their possible missions in the Persian Gulf and Iraq.
Maj. Douglas Powell, a spokesman for the Marines' headquarters in Virginia, said that humanitarian missions are part of the Marines' mission as an expeditionary force traveling the seas.
Just last week, for example, before the calamity in Southeast Asia, thousands of Marines and sailors left Okinawa to help flood victims in the Philippines.
"We have the ability to deliver supplies, (render) medical assistance, bring food, water and technical assistance to help manage large-scale crises," Powell said. "We'll be supporting whatever efforts are ongoing there now ---- supporting the governments and whatever nongovernmental agencies are working there."
Contact staff writer Darrin Mortenson at (760) 740-5442 firstname.lastname@example.org.
City News Service contributed to this story.