Help is on the way to areas of the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development and humanitarian relief groups.
The Obama administration made an initial $100,000 available Saturday to provide basic health care, clean water and sanitation following the Philippines government's request for international assistance. That figure is likely to grow as damage and humanitarian needs are assessed.
At the request of the Philippine government, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed U.S. Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and airlift emergency supplies, according to a statement released by the Defense Department press office.
USAID, the lead agency for the international humanitarian response, deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team to the area to make those assessments. The team's early surveys in some of the country's hardest-hit areas found severe damage, particularly in the towns of Tacloban and Ormoc on the island of Leyte, which were virtually wiped out by the storm. One of the first supplies delivered was plastic sheeting to be used for emergency shelter.
"Today our hearts go out to the Filipino people," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The United States can and must do everything in our power to assist our friend and ally in dealing with the devastating consequences of this storm, and to help meet the needs of the Filipino people in addressing this disaster."
The American Red Cross deployed staff members to the area and activated its family tracing services for people seeking to locate missing family members. With phone lines down across the area, the agency urged people to be patient and keep trying to make contact.
Google has launched a person finder for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, known as Yolanda in the Philippines, where friends and family can search for information on a loved one or enter information about a person's whereabouts so others know they are safe.
Private aid groups said there was an immediate need for rice, canned foods, clean water, medicine, clothes, shelter and blankets. But U.S. officials said that, just as in other disasters, the best thing Americans can do is donate cash to reputable humanitarian organizations.
Those seeking to send help can go to website for InterAction, a consortium of 180 non-government organizations involved in global assistance programs. Among the members are the American Red Cross, AmeriCares, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps, Oxfam America, Save the Children, U.S. Fund for UNICEF and World Food Program USA.
In addition, USAID operates a Center for International Disaster Information, which helps prospective donors get the most bang for their bucks.