General asks for U.S. warships in typhoon relief

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Marine Corps general in charge of U.S. military aid efforts for victims of Typhoon Haiyan is asking the Pentagon to urgently send a number of amphibious warships to the Philippines.

Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy tells CNN he needs the Marine Corps amphibious ships specifically because they can carry a variety of small boats, trucks, equipment and supplies needed, as well as making potable water. "They are the Swiss army knife of the U.S. military," Kennedy told 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 of the warships could be headed to the Philippines.

The amphibious ships can also carry helicopters and tracked vehicles known as "assault amphibious vehicles." These vehicles can carry supplies and move over and through piles of debris to distribution points where aid is needed most.

The U.S. military will take supplies to distribution points, but it 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.

The aircraft carrier USS George Washington and the other ships coming from Hong Kong will be used mainly for refueling helicopters and assisting in aerial search and rescue and wide area surveillance.

Kennedy said the most crucial need right now is to provide shelter for tens of thousands of displaced people, as well as food, water and sanitation. He noted that due to lack of sanitation, there may not even be time or capability to fly in portable toilets. Waste may have to start being burned in place in some instances.

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

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent

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