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'Everybody's shoulder to shoulder': General in charge of US relief effort in Philippines says response has been 'amazing'

by Becky Bratu /  / Updated 

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The general in charge of U.S. military relief operations in the typhoon-ravaged Philippine islands praised the swift and strong response from the international community to the disaster and said the focus remained on reaching those still in need of help in the most remote areas. 

"People that are in life-threatening situations, to them their sense of urgency is great," Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy told NBC News Thursday. "We empathize with the people of Tacloban and outlying regions and we’re trying to get to them as quickly as possible, but I think what your audience ought to understand is this is probably the most remote situation that you could imagine."

Kennedy said "a full-court press from the international relief community and the international military" was working together around the clock to distribute life-saving aid by road, air and water.

He said access to some islands continues to be difficult where there is no functioning airfield.

"People are describing a logjam, I’m not sure exactly what that means," Kennedy said. "We could always use more trucks, we could use generators and water purifiers — but we have those things. There have all been pushed down there, they’re coming in in larger numbers."

He added: "I think that we've optimized the military resources, we've made them available to the Philippine government and they’re pushing aid out to their people as we speak.” 

Several thousand U.S. troops are on the ground working with Philippine authorities, joined by personnel from Canada, Australia, Japan, Israel, Malaysia and other countries.

Kennedy said the response has been "amazing."

"Everybody’s shoulder to shoulder and helping these people that are in need," he said. 

Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines last week, packing 195 mph winds and overwhelming surges of water. The United Nations Thursday put the death toll at 4,460, up from the government's 2,360 figure, said Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. She cited the Filipino government in reporting the figure.

The U.N. also said that more than 900,000 people had been displaced by the storm, perhaps the most powerful ever to strike land, and that nearly 12 million people had been affected in some way.

Amid the chaos of the disaster aftermath, several reports of looting and armed attacks surfaced, but Kennedy said Philippine law enforcement officials told him violent incidents were not frequent. 

"There may be isolated incidents of violence, they may be in remote areas where we can’t get armed forces or police because the roads are closed or it’s otherwise inaccessible," he said.

"But in the areas that I have overflown — and it’s practically a daily event — and interfacing with the Philippines authorities, they’re saying this is just not true."

Kennedy added that the Philippine government responded strongly to the crisis and he is already seeing some signs of progress.

"We’ll get a handle on this, we think that we've seen signs of us turning a corner, certainly in local areas we've made a huge difference," he said, adding: "We just need confidence from the people that are watching.”

Late Thursday, the Marine Corps announced that about 1,000 more Marines, members of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Okinawa, Japan, were preparing to deploy to the Philippines. They will assist with road clearance, as well as distribution of humanitarian assistance and disaster Relief supplies, officials said.

There are already more than 5,000 U.S. servicemen and women in the country for Operation Damayan, which means "helping each other" in Filipino. 


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