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National and world

November 10, 2013

Typhoon survivors in Philippines struggle for aid

TACLOBAN, Philippines — Rescuers faced blocked roads and damaged airports on Monday as they raced to deliver desperately needed tents, food and medicines to the typhoon-devastated eastern Philippines where thousands are believed dead.

Three days after the Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the region, the full scale of the disaster — the biggest faced by the Philippines — was only now becoming apparent.  

The winds and the sea waves whipped up were so strong that they washed hulking ships inland, which now stood incongruously amid debris of buildings, trees, road signs and people’s belongings.

Authorities estimated that up to 10,000 people may have died. But the government, stunned by the scale of the disaster, has not given an official death toll yet. Still, officials said after surveying the areas there is little doubt that the death toll will be that high, or even higher.

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In Tacloban city, the capital of Leyte province, corpses hung from trees and were scattered on sidewalks. Many were buried in flattened buildings. The entire city appeared to have been obliterated. From the air the landscape resembled a giant garbage dump punctuated by a few concrete buildings that still stood.

Survivors wandered through the remains of their flattened wooden homes looking to salvage belongings or to search for loved ones.

Very little assistance had reached the city, residents reported.  Some took food, water and consumer goods from abandoned shops, malls and homes.

“This area has been totally ravaged," said Sebastien Sujobert, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tacloban. “Many lives were lost, a huge number of people are missing, and basic services such as drinking water and electricity have been cut off,” he said.

He said both the Philippine Red Cross and the ICRC offices in Tacloban had been damaged, forcing staff to relocate temporarily.

Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday and quickly barreled across its central islands, packing winds of 147 mph that gusted to 170 mph, and a storm surge of 6 meters 20 feet.

Even though authorities had evacuated some 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon, the death toll was so high because many evacuation centers — brick-and-mortar schools, churches and government buildings — could not withstand the winds and water surges. Officials said people who had huddled in these buildings drowned or were swept away.  

It inflicted serious damage to at least six islands in the middle of the eastern seaboard, with Leyte, Samar and the northern part of Cebu appearing to bear the brunt of the storm. About 4 million people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.

Video from Eastern Samar province’s Guiuan township — the first area where the typhoon made landfall — also showed a trail of devastation similar to Tacloban. Many houses were flattened and roads were strewn with debris and uprooted trees. The ABS-CBN video showed several bodies on the street, covered with blankets.

“I have no house, I have no clothes. I don’t know how I will restart my life, I am so confused,” an unidentified woman said, crying. “I don’t know what happened to us. We are appealing for help. Whoever has a good heart, I appeal to you — please help Guiuan.”

The United Nations said it was sending supplies but access to the worst hit areas was a challenge.

“Reaching the worst affected areas is very difficult, with limited access due to the damage caused by the typhoon to infrastructure and communications,” said UNICEF Philippines Representative Tomoo Hozumi.

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