US triples number of aid helicopters

The United States tripled Wednesday the number of helicopters helping flood relief effort, as top US officials issued somber warnings about the massive scale of the disaster.

The boost in the US deployment came as outgoing UN humanitarian chief John Holmes appealed for 460 million dollars in emergency aid for up to 14 million people reeling from worst floods in living memory.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault ship, was moored off Karachi awaiting the green light to dispatch its 19 helicopters to the disaster zone.

“The flooding in Pakistan has the potential to be significantly more disastrous for the country than the earthquake several years ago,” Gates said, referring to the 2005 Azad Jammu and Kashmir earthquake that killed more than 73,000 people.

“The (US) president (Barack Obama) wants to lean forward in offering help to the Pakistanis,” Gates said. “We will work with them (the Pakistanis) and do this at their pace.”

Six US helicopters — to be redeployed to Afghanistan once those on the Peleliu begin work — have so far rescued 3,000 people and delivered 146 tonnes of aid, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

Richard Holbrooke, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, urged the American people in an interview Wednesday to try to comprehend the enormous scale of the suffering in Pakistan.

“Although the deaths are far less than they were in the (2004 Indian Ocean) tsunami, and in the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and in Haiti, the overall number of people affected is much larger than all of those combined,” he said.

“The international recognition of this disaster has not yet been sufficient to its dimensions,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations.

“That is because floods, unlike earthquakes and tsunamis, are not sudden catastrophes that hit and then the reconstruction begins. They’re rolling crises, which grow and are initially underestimated, and that is what has happened in Pakistan.”