Chest-high mud, roofs stripped from 80 percent of buildings, residents left homeless in an area nearly the size of Rhode Island -- these are the conditions seen by Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa troops as they scout the storm-ravaged country to provide humanitarian relief.
Air Force Col. Jason Terry, commander of the 435th Contingency Response Group, said task force members are assessing airfields to determine whether they can support the aircraft needed to move supplies into areas devastated by the cyclone, which struck western Africa on March 14.
According to Terry, runways are highly susceptible to ground shifts caused by floodwaters, and task force responders must decide whether airfields can accommodate the C-17 Globemaster, which can carry more than twice the cargo than a C-130, or whether they can support smaller planes or rotary aircraft only.
Terry said teams are looking at cargo handling, unloading capabilities, parking and refueling support.
"Is it going to hold the plane? ... You have some concerns," he said on a call with reporters from an airfield in Mozambique.
Army Maj. Gen. James Craig, commanding general of the task force, landed in Mozambique Monday to meet with U.S. Ambassador Dennis Hearne, U.S. Agency for International Development responders and World Food Programme representatives to coordinate delivery of goods, including food, medical supplies and other materials.
Craig said U.S. troops provide "unique military capabilities and expertise that will support U.S. government and humanitarian assistance efforts," referring to the Defense Department's expertise in logistics support and humanitarian operations.
"We are responding as quickly and safely as possible to help bring relief from the devastation," Craig said in a statement released Tuesday.
According to The Associated Press, more than half a million people in the port city of Beira -- the hardest-hit area -- have been displaced, with little access to clean water and sanitation services.
Five cases of cholera have been confirmed -- with more expected, given the overcrowded conditions in shelters and lack of infrastructure.
The World Health Organization on Tuesday said the risk of cholera and malaria presents an opportunity for a "second disaster." It is transporting 900,000 doses of cholera vaccines and setting up three cholera treatment centers, as well as distributing up to 900,000 bed nets to guard against the post-storm onslaught of mosquitoes.
The death toll is at least 783, with 468 in Mozambique, 259 and 56 in Malawi; however, the United Nations expects those numbers to rise as relief workers reach remote regions struck by the storm.
Army Brig. Gen. Leonard Kosinski, director of logistics for U.S. Africa Command, said it's too early to determine how many U.S. troops will be needed for the response or the scope of the assistance.
Right now, he added, the Contingency Response Group is "setting up mobility operations, inspecting airfields and best practices to get things going.
"We will be there in the capacity where we are needed, as requested by the ambassador there and the Republic of Mozambique," Kosinski said. "There are still determinations on what are those unique needs the U.S. military can support."