American troops wrap up Panay ‘mercy mission’

By MONTESA GRIÑO/ PNS

ILOILO City – The 268 US soldiers sent by President George W. Bush to help in the relief and rescue operations of flashflood victims in Panay Island have packed up and left.

For a week, the Americans brought relief goods to over 350,000 dislocated families, especially those in unreachable areas, said group commander Rear Admiral James P. Wisecup.

Brigade Gen. Nestor Ochoa of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) said Philippine troops had a fellowship party with their American counterparts before they left.

The US troops belonged to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier that sailed to the Philippines from Hongkong upon Bush’s orders last week.

“We wanted them to know how much we appreciated their support,” Ochoa said.

The US troops were composed of doctors, engineers and nurses.

On their first day in Panay Friday last week, the first wave of US Seahawk helicopters were dispatched to the islands off Carles, Iloilo. Residents there were totally cut off from the mainland because of rough seas, exposing the population to hunger and disease.

The helicopters flew about 100 bags of rice intended for Gigante group of islands, Sicogon and nearby islands.

After the Carles islands were provisioned, the helicopters were deployed to other islands in the 5th District of Iloilo like Salvacion, Malangabang, Macatunao and Baliquian in Concepcion.

Engineers from the USS Ronald Reagan also visited the badly-damaged hospitals in the province, notably Janiuay and Barotac Viejo.

Ochoa said their American counterparts made the Filipino troops’ load “a little lighter.”

“With the (old) planes of the Philippine Air Force, we can only do so much,” added Ochoa.

The Regional Disaster Coordinating Council’s latest report showed 2,634 barangays affected by Typhoon “Frank,” with Iloilo having the most number of affected villages at 1,123. Capiz had 473, Aklan had 327; Antique, 304; Negros Occidental, 183; Iloilo City, 151; Guimaras, 40; and Bacolod City, 33.

The RDCC also registered a total of 342,379 dislocated families equivalent to 1,734,782 persons.

United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney checked how the US troops were doing two days after their arrival.

She said the American relief assistance was not an act of charity but rather a help to a resilient people working hard to get back on their feet after being hit by a natural calamity.