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Other relief workers operate as a mobile triage unit, moving through the refugee camps that have sprouted across Sumatra's now barren landscape. Some 50,000 people are camped in local mosques and schools. Most of the refugees are still using rivers for washing their dishes and bathing--a recipe for cholera and typhoid. As the advance teams uncover unsanitary conditions in the camps, they report them to MSF water and sanitation units working in the area. "We work until midnight every day at the earliest, but we're always running behind," says Moens. "We just don't have the time or people to be everywhere."
In a crisis of this scale, some tasks require the kind of muscle only a superpower has. The U.S. Navy has 21 ships and 12,600 crew members working on rescue and relief operations in the waters off Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Seahawk helicopters--their blades filling the air with a fluttering rumble--sidle in and touch down on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln's 4 1/2-acre flight deck. Since sunrise on Jan. 1, the carrier's Seahawks have been flying from 13 to 17 missions a day. "We're going nonstop from dawn until sunset. Then the commanders meet, talk about what we've learned that day and map out what needs to be done tomorrow," says Captain David Lausman, the ship's executive officer.
The sailors and pilots are trying as best they can to coordinate with private groups to set up a smooth supply line. A host of aid organizations flies in supplies on U.S. C130 cargo planes to the tiny runway of the airport at Banda Aceh. Once unloaded, the planes must take off immediately to clear space for the next plane. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are landing on a converted football field a few hundred yards away, and the pilots are managing the transfer of supplies from the C130s to the helicopters. "It was like the Wild West down there when we first flew in," says Lieut. Dave Moffet, "but it's getting better." The helicopters head off for the villages, each one delivering 2,000 to 3,000 lbs. of food, medical supplies, communications equipment and even a few toys and some candy for the children. Along the way, their crews scour the countryside, looking for isolated hamlets that have yet to receive help and for displaced people straggling along roads. When they come across those who are sick or wounded, they ferry as many as possible to the field hospital. "We're seeing a lot of dehydration, diarrhea, lacerations and people missing limbs," says Kenny Rowe, a petty officer on a Seahawk. "We've got people with gangrene and other infections that could be fatal that haven't been treated for a week." Back at the airport, a few C-2 Greyhound transport planes load up with rice and carry it in. "Right now rice is gold to these people," says Rowe.