The U.S. Marine commander on the ground in the Philippines called Tuesday for more ships, supplies and troops to cope with the vast devastation caused by super Typhoon Haiyan in what was shaping up as the biggest relief effort ever undertaken by the U.S. military in the Pacific.
The aircraft carrier USS George Washington and its battle group were expected to arrive in Philippine waters Wednesday. However, Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy said his more immediate need was for amphibious ships and the tracked vehicles, landing craft and added Marines they bring with them.
"They are the Swiss army knife of the U.S. military," Kennedy said of the capabilities of the amphibious ships, which also have helicopter landing pads, medical staff and facilities for providing potable water. In addition to help from the U.S., "the rest of the world needs to get mobilized, the rest of the donor community," Kennedy told NBC News. "A week from now will be too late."
At the Pentagon, a senior Marine official said that the transport dock Denver, the landing ship dock Germantown and the landing ship dock Ashland -- all now in port in Sasebo, Japan, -- would likely be ordered to the Philippines later this week.
The ships would bring with them Marine Amphibious Assault Vehicles which would "be very useful in areas that are flooded so badly -- they can swim," said the senior official, who spoke at a background briefing.
"I think there are going to be many more requests for aid" which will include military mortuary teams to deal with the escalating death toll, the official said. "There are people suffering right now. They can't wait another week," the official said.
The official predicted that "this will be the biggest human disaster relief operation we've done in the Pacific Command AOR (Area of Responsibility)," and also said he expected the size of the Marine contingent on the ground to grow to about 2,000.
At a separate Pentagon briefing, George Little, the chief spokesman, said that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had ordered "all available U.S. forces" in the Pacific to be ready to respond to the death and devastation in the Philippines that spread throughout the archipelago.
About 250 Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade were already on the ground at the former Clark Air Base and at the Philippine Air Force base at Villamor with five KC-130J refueling and cargo aircraft, and four MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
Typhoon Haiyan, known as Yolanda in the Philippines, made landfall on Nov. 8 in the central Philippines and triggered heavy rains, widespread flooding and landslides, particularly in Leyte and East Samar provinces, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
As of Nov. 11, at least 1,174 deaths had been attributed to Haiyan which affected 9.7 million people and destroyed at least 23,000 homes.
However, Philippines authorities warned that the scale of the destruction is still unknown, since so many areas of the island national are still inaccessible.