Obama Visits Flood-Displaced Ethiopians

The Associated Press
Thursday, August 31, 2006; 11:27 AM

DIRE DAWA, Ethiopia -- Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., visited a sprawling tent camp in eastern Ethiopia on Thursday for people displaced by devastating floods earlier this month, saying the U.S. military will continue to help the region.

U.S. Navy personnel began relief operations two weeks ago in the eastern town of Dire Dawa, where the first flash floods ripped through the town on Aug. 6. In eastern, southern and northeastern Ethiopia, flooding caused by the heavy rains has killed more than 600 people and displaced tens of thousands of people, according to U.N. officials.

"The next order of business is to make sure these families are taken care of," said Obama, who is on a five-country tour of Africa. "But this shows what kind of role the U.S. military can play."

U.S. naval engineers, who are part of the anti-terror Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa based in neighboring Djibouti, set up 60 enormous canvas tents that are housing 2,700 people. The tents are furnished with straw mats and basic necessities.

Sanitation facilities were built with the help of the Ethiopian Red Cross. Already, 150 people have died of waterborne diseases and 12,000 have been infected, according to relief organizations.

"This is a wonderful thing that the U.S. military has done," said Mohammed Noor, who is living in the tent city. "We lost everything by the waters that washed away our home."

Dire Dawa is 310 miles east of Addis Ababa.

© 2006 The Associated Press