Navy Ship Heads Toward Site of Philippine Mudslide Disaster

 By Samantha L. Quigley
 American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2006  - A U.S. Navy ship already in the area for an exercise is steaming for Leyte Island in the Philippines to provide disaster relief assistance, U.S. State Department officials said in a news release today.

The has been dispatched from Subic Bay, less than 1,000 kilometers from Leyte Island, where it was participating in Exercise Balikatan '06. Officials did not provide the name or type of the ship.

The United States has received a request from the Philippine Red Cross for helicopter support to assist with rescue and relief operations in the area, State Department officials said.

"We will continue to coordinate with Philippine authorities, including the National Disaster Coordinating Council, regarding needs, and will assist to the best of our abilities," an official with the U.S. Embassy in Manila said in a statement today.

Leyte Island has endured heavy rains in recent days, according to news reports. Those rains caused a mudslide that swept through Guinsaugon, a farming village in the municipality of St. Bernard, covering all but four of the more than 300 homes in the area, and reportedly an elementary school in session, with mud.

A representative of the Philippine Red Cross has indicated that at least 200 residents were killed, but warned that the death toll could be much higher, as there are 1,500 to 2,000 people still missing, according to news reports.

The United States has authorized the Philippine Red Cross to use about $50,000 of emergency relief funds already granted to the Red Cross from an earlier disaster. The Philippine National Red Cross also plans to distribute protective masks for rescue workers, plastic sheeting, and body bags donated by the U.S. government in response to previous disasters tomorrow morning.

Rescue efforts have ended for today because of continuing rain and darkness, news sources said.

Balikatan is an annual military exercise aimed at improving Philippine-U.S. combined planning, combat readiness, and interoperability. It also enhances security relations and demonstrates U.S. resolve to support the Republic of the Philippines against external aggression.