Three Canadian military choppers to head to Philippines to help in relief effort

Lieutenant Alayna Kang of a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) prepares her luggage for a rapid deployment to the Philippine Islands on November 11, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Canadian Forces Combat Camera - Corporal Darcy Lefebvre

A new addition was made to Canada's relief efforts in the Philippines Saturday, with three military helicopters and their crew designated to help with aid operations in the typhoon-ravaged country.

Two of the three CH-146 Griffon choppers were set to leave Canada on Sunday from Ontario's CFB Trenton aboard a military transport plane.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said the helicopters will give Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team — which is already in the Philippines — additional means to reach and help those in need of assistance.

Meanwhile, Canadian soldiers on the ground in the Philippines were making clean drinking water a priority in their relief efforts.

Col. Stephen Kelsey, of Canadian Joint Operations Command, said a transport plane carrying a water-purification system was en route to the country and would be in place by early next week.

It will produce 50,000 litres of safe drinking water a day.

Kelsey also said DART was able to successfully send out a mobile medical team from its base camp in the city of Roxas to treat victims in a hard-hit area.

Some roads remain choked by debris, making it a challenge for Canadian crews to reach certain communities, Kelsey said.

"As they start to interact with the communities, they get a better sense of what's happening and the true enormity of the challenges," Kelsey said in a telephone briefing on Saturday.

In all, there will be about 200 members of the DART providing aid to typhoon victims.

Kelsey said co-ordinating the relief work hasn't been easy.

"One of the challenges on early days is the synchronization of all the efforts," he said. "Not only the Canadian effort, but in concert with the provincial authorities and non-governmental organizations."

After an initial week of chaos, the United Nations said the international aid effort in the Philippines was gathering momentum. The UN said more than 107,000 people have received food assistance so far.

In addition to aid operations, efforts remain under way to locate Canadians missing in the aftermath of the typhoon.

Officials have said they are dealing with 55 active cases brought forward by relatives in Canada who've asked for help tracking down loved ones.

Canada's ambassador designate to the Philippines said Saturday that extra consular staff are being sent to the Asian country.

Three additional officers are being dispatched to the city of Roxas to work with the Canadian Forces and local officials, said Neil Reeder, and will help Canada assess the "long term assistance this region may require."

Canada has committed to fast-tracking Filipino visa applicants and has said that Filipino students and temporary workers currently in Canada will be allowed to apply to have their visas extended so they don't have to go back to destruction in their home country.

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