DART members en route to Philippines

‘Obviously we’ll do all we can,’ John Baird says

OTTAWA – The leading edge of Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team is on its way to the Philippines to help the devastated island nation deal with the daunting aftermath of last week’s catastrophic typhoon.

A Canadian Forces C-17 from CFB Trenton is en route to the Southeast Asian archipelago, carrying between 35 and 50 members of the team and their gear, Foreign Minister John Baird told a news conference Monday.

The full complement of the rapid-response team, known as DART, comprises 200 Canadian Forces personnel and was last deployed following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010.

“The first plane will leave within hours and it will bring personnel and equipment,” Baird said in the House of Commons foyer.

“Obviously, due to the scale and the scope (of the disaster), we will be working with our Filipino counterparts to determine what else is required, how many additional resources. Obviously we’ll do all we can.”

The DART has four specific areas of specialty: basic medical care, water purification, basic infrastructure repairs such as roads and electricity and streamlining communications systems for aid efforts.

Its deployment has become a signature element of Canada’s international relief efforts when catastrophic disaster strikes, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the quake in Pakistan in 2005 and the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster of 2004.

The team will work with local authorities as well as other aid groups and the Philippines armed forces to determine how best they can help, Baird said, noting the speed with which the federal government took action.

“We’re not getting into arcane bureaucratic discussions about paperwork and whatnot,” he said. “There’s people who need our help and we’re going to do everything we can to provide assistance.”

The federal government has already promised up to $5 million in aid money and has pledged to match donations to relief organizations, Baird said as he encouraged Canadians to open up their wallets to help.

“The one thing I would suggest more than anything is to take the government up on its offer,” he said.

“We will match dollar-for-dollar donations made to registered Canadian charities. Canadians have been generous in previous devastating events like this, and we hope they’ll be generous.”

The true scale of devastation wrought Friday by typhoon Haiyan has yet to emerge, but some estimates suggest the death toll could reach 10,000, with hundreds of thousands badly affected.

The hard-hit city of Tacloban resembled a garbage dump from the air, with only a few concrete buildings left standing in the wake of one of the most powerful storms to ever hit land, packing 237-kilometre-an-hour winds and whipping up six-metre walls of seawater that tossed ships inland and swept many out to sea.

There was no one to carry away the dead, which lay rotting along the main road from the airport to Tacloban, the worst-hit city along the country’s remote eastern seaboard.

Authorities estimated the typhoon killed 10,000 or more people, but with the slow pace of recovery, the official death toll three days after the storm made landfall remained at 942.

However, with shattered communications and transportation links, the final count was likely days away, and presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said “we pray” it does not surpass 10,000.

Authorities said at least 9.7 million people in 41 provinces were affected by the typhoon, believed to be the deadliest natural disaster to ever beset the poor Southeast Asian nation.

— With files from The Associated Press

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