The U.S. military has delivered 125 tons of food to areas of Mozambique struggling to recover from Cyclone Idai, part of an international response that is "just the beginning" of the relief efforts, U.S. Africa Command officials said Monday.
About 90 troops from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa are involved in direct relief operations and have performed 30 humanitarian sorties since March 27, Air Force Brig. Gen. Randy Huston, U.S. Africa Command deputy director of operations, said Monday during a press call with reporters.
The service members are transporting World Food Programme provisions from staging areas in Pisa, Italy and Dubai to Maputo, Mozambique's capital. There, they are transferred from C-17 Globemasters to C-130 Hercules aircraft and shuttled to devastated areas for distribution.
Cyclone Idai made landfall near the port city of Beira, Mozambique, on March 14 as a Category 3 storm, with winds of 125 miles per hour and a 16-foot storm surge. It then moved inland, burying villages and farmland in torrential rains and mud before moving through the neighboring countries of Malawi and Zimbabwe.
The storm killed at least 748 people and affected 1.8 million residents, leaving them without electricity or water.
More than two weeks after the storm, a second disaster is unfolding; the BBC reported at least 500 cases of cholera in Beira with at least one death. More cases of cholera are expected, given overcrowded conditions at shelters, poor sanitation and the need for clean water.
According to U.S. Africa Command officials, the Department of Defense has authorized expenditures of up to $15 million to support DoD operations in the region through April 15.
As of March 31, U.S. Agency for International Development had provided $6.2 million in humanitarian assistance to Mozambique. The operations remain challenging, Huston said, because of the disaster's scope, affecting an area nearly the size of the country of Luxembourg.
"Unfortunately, there's a great tyranny of distance. But I'm pleased to say we leaned forward from the very beginning," Huston said. "For instance, from the neighboring country Botswana, our defense attache recognized that we needed to get boots on the ground to see the scale and scope of the disaster. They launched one of their airplanes with four people on it to do overflights."
About 160 U.S. federal civilian employees are also present in Mozambique helping direct the U.S. response. Representatives from the U.S. State Department, USAID and elsewhere are providing assistance at the request of the country's government. In addition, personnel in Washington, D.C., at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and across the federal government are working full-time to support the response, officials said.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is providing mapping data to help U.S. Africa Command with its logistics planning, but the agency also has launched a public safety page to help international responders plan their relief efforts, providing information on water and sanitation availability, population distribution and points of entry.
Units participating in the U.S. military operation include CTJF-HOA, the Air Force 435th Contingency Response Group and elements of U.S. European Command, defense officials said.
In a release, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said the U.S. is committed to "our African partners while helping to ensure the security and stability of the region."
"U.S. Africa Command is supporting a partner in need, delivering critical equipment, supplies, and expertise," Waldhauser said. "Our efforts reflect the values of our nation."