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General asks for U.S. warships in typhoon relief

General asks for U.S. warships in typhoon relief
Scott Clotworthy/CNN
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POSTED: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 9:25am

UPDATED: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 9:25am

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The hundreds of thousands of typhoon victims in the Philippines need help and they need it now, the U.S. Marine Corps general in charge of the U.S. military relief effort says.

Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy told CNN he needs immediate dispatch of U.S. Navy amphibious ships that carry equipment that can make potable water and the variety of helicopters, small boats, trucks and other supplies needed in the relief effort.

"They are the Swiss army knife of the U.S. military," Kennedy said of the amphibious ships, speaking to CNN in a telephone interview from the Philippines. Kennedy says he believes his request will be approved by the Pentagon in the coming hours.

As many as four warships could be headed to the Philippines. That includes three that are home-ported in the Pacific, which are now under orders to to prepare to deploy in the next 48 hours, a senior Pentagon official told CNN.

Kennedy said the most crucial need right now is to provide shelter for the tens of thousands of displaced people, as well as food, water and sanitation. The situation is so dire there may not even be enough time or capability to fly in portable toilets, and human waste may have to be burned in place, he said.

While U.S. Marines are on the ground providing aid and more U.S. military help has been dispatched, Kennedy said more help is urgently needed.

"The rest of the world needs to get mobilized, the rest of the donor community," he told NBC News. "A week from now will be too late. "

"We can't wait," said Martin Romualdez, a Philippines congressman. "People have gone three days without any clean water, food and medication," he told CNN's "Piers Morgan Live." "People are getting desperate."

Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines on Friday as one of the most powerful storms ever recorded on Earth.

By Tuesday, officials had counted 1,774 deaths from the storm, but say that number may just be scratching the surface. They fear Haiyan may have taken as many as 10,000 lives.

With wind gusts well above 200 mph and a massive storm surge, the storm displaced at least 800,000 people, the United Nations said Tuesday.

More than 2 million people need food aid, the Philippine government said.

Compounding relief efforts Tuesday was a new tropical low, Zoraida, which has dumped four inches of rain in some of the hard-hit areas. That makes the amphibious ships Kennedy has asked for even more vital.

The amphibious ships have tracked "assault amphibious vehicles" that can carry supplies and move over and through piles of debris to distribution points where aid is needed most.

The Pentagon has dispatched the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and the other ships that were visiting Hong Kong to the disaster area. But they will be used mainly for refueling helicopters and assisting in aerial search and rescue and wide area surveillance.

The U.S. military relief effort will take supplies to distribution points, but those supplies will be then handed out by Philippines forces, Kennedy said. Local forces are in the best position to know community leaders and make sure those in the most need are getting the help, he added.

As of Tuesday night in the Philippines, lights and radars are being assembled at the airport in Tacloban, at the heart of the disaster zone, and the facility is expected to be running full day and nighttime operations within 24 hours, he said.

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