WASHINGTON, May 15, 2008 – A total of eight Air Force C-130s have delivered supplies to Burma as part of the U.S. relief effort following Cyclone Nargis, a senior military official said yesterday. Five C-130 Hercules transports delivered water, blankets, rations, mosquito netting and plastic sheeting yesterday. “We have to have permission every time we go in,” the official, speaking on background, said. “U.S. officials have a verbal OK to bring in five more planeloads of relief supplies today, he added.

Military planners said they want the Burmese to accept six CH-53 helicopters to speed delivery of the supplies to those hardest hit by the cyclone deep in the Irrawaddy River delta. Burma has only a handful of helicopters, and military officials doubt the nation has the capability to deliver the supplies to those most in need.

The U.S. effort currently is limited to deliveries to the international airfield at Rangoon. The Hercules airlifters land, offload the supplies and then depart, the military official said. No Americans are on the ground to assist in assessing what the cyclone victims need and how best to get the supplies to them. U.S. military airfield specialists are standing by for the OK to help the Burmese manage the supplies that are flowing in.

Cyclone Nargis hit an area with 2 million people. A Burmese government spokesman said more than 35,000 people are dead and more than 30,000 are missing. United Nations estimates said the number killed could be more than 100,000.

The U.S. military is looking at options for setting up a helicopter forward operating base outside Burma, the official said. The base ideally would put U.S. choppers within easy range to deliver supplies to the southern Irrawaddy River delta. Officials said many areas in the delta are still under water and that there are no roads to many affected towns and villages. The helicopters would allow supplies to reach those people.

In addition, the USS Essex Expeditionary Strike Group is off the coast of Burma. Clean water is the biggest need now, and the Essex group has 14,000 5-gallon water bladders ready to deliver. The ship also has pallets of other supplies the crew could deliver quickly. “The capacity on those ships is incredible,” the official said.

The U.S. ships are only part of a flotilla rushing to provide aid the Burmese government is reluctant to accept. British, French and Australian ships are converging on the area, the official said.

But delivering fresh water and other supplies is only the first piece of the relief effort the Burmese people need, the official said. As terrible as the loss of life already has been, “the disease and all the second- and third-order effects remain,” he noted.

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