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Philippine president to camp in hard-hit Tacloban

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By USA Today
Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
 

TACLOBAN, Philippines — As the U.S. military ramps up aid efforts in the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino III pledged on Sunday to remain in the hard-hit Leyte province until he sees more of that aid reaching survivors.

Aquino is expected to set up camp in Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province, but it is not clear where. Nearly every building in the city was damaged by the Nov. 8 Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 3,974 people, according to the latest official count. More than 1,000 remain missing.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to Tacloban, Aquino said that while there has been some progress in the aid effort, it is not enough.

“We really want to ease the burden of everybody as soon as possible. As long as I don't see any more improvements, we'll stay here,” Aquino said, referring to his official team.

Meanwhile, the Navy is increasing its presence to help open affected areas, said Denny Wetherald, rear admiral with the Amphibious Force U.S. Seventh Fleet. That includes two landing ship docks — amphibious warships that transport and launch landing craft and amphibious vehicles — en route from Okinawa, Japan, Wetherald said in Manila.

The ships, set to arrive Tuesday night, carry bulldozers, earthmovers, jeeps, Humvees and surgical teams, Wetherald said.

U.S. planes continue to ferry Filipinos out of the disaster area.

“It's a pretty moving experience,” said Wetherald of flying from hard-hit Tacloban city to Manila lastweek on a plane packed with people evacuating their storm-wrecked homes.

The U.S. Agency for International Development will take the lead on deciding how long the aid operation, facilitated by the American military, should continue, Wetherald said. “We do this for a living. We can operate for as long as needed.”

The Americans' arrival greatly boosted the relief effort, said Col. Miguel Okol, a spokesman for the Philippine air force.

The 19 C-130 cargo planes, plus other aircraft from the United States, Philippines and other nations, “is just enough, but the struggle lies in the capacity of airports and runways to take in that amount of air assets,” Okol said.

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