OTTAWA – Canadian soldiers in the Philippines are finishing their base camp in the city of Roxas and preparing to send out their first medical team to provide basic care to typhoon refugees.
Back home on Friday, other soldiers loaded water-purification system aboard a transport plane heading for the devastated archipelago from Trenton, Ont..
The medics from the Disaster Assistance Response Team or DART are preparing to head to an evacuation centre in the Pilar region of Panay island, Lt.-Col. Walter Taylor, the DART commander on the scene, said in a Friday teleconference.
“While we’re building our own camp and establishing ourselves, I’m very pleased to say that tomorrow, our time, we’ll be pushing the first mobile medical team out to one of the evacuation centres where our NGO partners have identified a significant requirement for medical attention,” he said.
Officials say Canada has 118 military people on the ground in the storm-ravaged country, with another 70 en route.
They plan a schedule that would send off a transport plane every second day to bring in supplies to sustain the aid effort.
“As our capabilities continue to arrive in theatre that capability which is very small right now will continue to grow each day,” Taylor said.
The Canadians are in the process of setting up a base camp in a sports field in Roxas.
Meanwhile, efforts are under way to locate missing Canadians. Relatives in Canada asked for help in tracking down 185 people and officials say they have found 110 of them. They say 330 Canadians registered with the embassy in Manila are thought to be in the region hit by the typhoon.
Taylor said delivering aid is a problem. Local officials in his region stockpiled supplies before the storm hit, but they are dwindling.
Aid efforts are hampered by geography and the aftermath of the storm, which left roads choked with debris.
“Really the most pressing concern that we see now is access to the communities,” he said.
“Aid is coming into the country but aid is starting to build up because it can’t be distributed because some of the regions are remote. The Philippines is a country made up of a number of islands and it’s difficult to transport goods from one community or from a major airport into the different communities.”
Officials in Ottawa haven’t yet decided whether to send three to six Griffon helicopters to help with getting supplies to outlying regions. The air force says it is readying the choppers to go if needed.
Taylor said his soldiers are pleased to finally be getting down to business.
“The soldiers that are here … are very excited that after all this buildup we’re now finally in a position to be starting these operations to help the people of the Philippines get through the dark days following the disaster,” he said in a conference call from Roxas.