Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Great Airlift

Chilean air force planes filled with relief supplies are landing every 30 minutes at the airport in Concepcion. A KC-135 tanker-transport that was delivered just days earlier was pressed into service. Bell 412 and UH-1H helicopters are reaching areas cut off by the Feb. 27 earthquake -- all part of the "air bridge" reaching Chile's south. Some of the injured have been flown to hospitals, while the air force deployed its own field hospital in the town of Curanilahue. Chile's army, meanwhile, continues patrolling Concepcion and other devastated areas, while also operating field hospitals. It is playing a principal role in distributing food and supplies, operating Cougar, Super Puma and MD 530 helicopters in addition to CN 235 airplanes. The navy is helping keep the peace in Talcahuano, as it tries to get its own base in that city back to normal. The Asmar shipyard, owned by the navy, is "unrecognizable" after the tsunami, the navy says. Its shops were destroyed, floating docks were damaged and ships being serviced were cast onto the shore. Some boats in the harbor sank. Despite some initial missteps, the military's efforts are proceeding well by most accounts. Indeed, its labors are a critical test. Disaster relief is one of the armed forces' main missions, especially in a nation where war is a remote possibility. The earthquake exposed Chile's vulnerability to its own geography. With the single north-south highway cut off, air and sea transportation became crucial links.

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