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US Troops Pitch Tents for Filipinos

March 5, 2000

ANISLAG, Philippines (AP) _ U.S. soldiers pitched tent shelters Sunday to relieve overcrowding at evacuation centers where tens of thousands of people have been living to escape a volcano that began erupting last month.

Disaster relief officials have been busy feeding more than 66,000 people and preventing diseases from spreading at the centers in the wake of a series of powerful eruptions by Mayon volcano, which remained relatively quiet for a fourth day Sunday.

Working side by side with Filipino troops, about 30 U.S. soldiers hammered tents into place while throngs of evacuees watched in a clearing in Anislag village in Albay province.

The U.S. military contingent, led by Navy Capt. Bob Harward, brought the tents, bottled water, mats and 20,000 gas masks, funded by a $418,000 donation from the U.S. government.

The American soldiers were among more than 2,000 U.S. troops who had joined the monthlong joint military exercises _ called Balikatan, or ``shouldering the load together″ _ in the Philippines that ended Friday.

``It’s tied in with the Balikatan because the same counterparts we have been training with, learning how to fight, can show their flexibility in quickly transitioning into humanitarian operations,″ Harward said.

A convoy of army trucks brought the relief cargo from two U.S. C-130 planes to Anislag. There, U.S. troops, Philippine soldiers and police, some wearing yellow hard hats and orange vests, unloaded the relief goods as smiling evacuees milled around.

Officials said up to 3,000 people could be accommodated in the tents.

Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said they would transfer some of the evacuees sheltered in grade school buildings to the tents to allow classes to resume.

Mercado denied newspaper reports that food supplies were running low in the evacuation centers, citing as an example rice stocks in Albay, which he said are good for another six months.

President Joseph Estrada has allocated $525,000 for disaster relief, mostly to buy food and medicine for evacuation sites in Albay, about 215 miles southeast of Manila.

Mayon, which is famous for its conical shape, began erupting on Feb. 24, belching red hot rocks and ash high into the sky. Last week, a series of powerful explosions rained ash on several villages, forcing more people into evacuation centers.

Ernesto Corpuz of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said it was still hard to predict what Mayon would do in the coming days.

The 8,118-foot Mayon has been restive since June. Its most violent eruption, on Feb. 1, 1814, killed more than 1,200 people and buried an entire town in mud.

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