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US military starts helicopter flights over Haiti to judge storm damage, relief needs

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WASHINGTON - The U.S. military on Saturday began flights over Haiti to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Tomas.

Flights off of the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima will help pinpoint the worst-hit areas and those where people most need relief, U.S. Southern Command spokesman Jose Ruiz said.

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The Iwo Jima arrived off Haiti's coast Friday with eight Marine Corps helicopters and two Navy helicopters that could also be used later to help deliver relief supplies. In a telephone interview from Miami, Ruiz said that the damage assessment flights were requested by Haiti's government, and that was all that had been asked for so far.

The State Department has said it has enough blankets, plastic sheeting, hygiene kits and other relief supplies in place throughout Haiti to help as many as 125,000 storm victims. If those supplies aren't enough, there are more warehoused in Miami.

The U.N.'s World Food Program has stockpiled food around Haiti and on a barge off the coast.

The Iwo Jima had been on a humanitarian mission to eight Caribbean and Latin American nations since mid-July, when it was ordered to divert from Suriname to Haiti for the storm emergency. It has more than 500 Marines on board as well as about 1,100 uniformed and civilian workers, including engineers and doctors.

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