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But like the doctors on the ground, the pilots encounter frustration. "We land in villages, and we can't understand what they're telling us," Moffet says. "People tell us there's a village 6 kilometers away that needs food, and then we go out looking for it and can't find it, and we have to go back two or three times looking for it." Desperate people rush the helicopters and risk being sliced by the blades. "We're lucky most of them are pretty short," he says with a wan smile. Now they try to get a translator off the choppers first to keep villagers back. "We try and fly different routes every day to find villages we're missing. We found one today because they had laid out an H in a field with white stones."
The Lincoln will eventually have to be relieved, perhaps by the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. But for now, no one is in a hurry to see this tour of duty end. "Frankly, I don't care how long we're here," Moffet says. "We're not going to leave these people hanging." Sailors on the Lincoln receive constant emails from buddies elsewhere offering to pitch in.
The true test will come when attention wanes and the world moves on to some other preoccupation. The people in this region will need help for some time to come--and not just food, water and medicine. "They've lost everything. You'd be surprised--they need little things we don't even think about in our daily lives," says Gail Neudorf, deputy director of emergency and humanitarian relief for CARE USA. "Things like soap, washing powder, buckets, bottles for water so you have a clean container to keep water in, cooking utensils, sleeping mats, clothing, blankets, diapers, sanitary pads, matches, candles, lanterns, cooking fuel. In time, we'll look at getting books for kids out there, school kits." Then the survivors will need another army of donors to piece together the lives they have lost. --Reported by Aravind Adiga/ Kudathanai; Denis Giles/aboard the relief ship MV Sentinel; Robert Horn/ aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln; Carolina A. Miranda and Deirdre van Dyk/ New York; Alex Perry/ Port Blair; Eric Roston/ Washington; and Jason Tedjasukmana/ Banda Aceh