Typhoon death toll surges as aid trickles in
Dead bodies still littering streets
TACLOBAN: “I hope it will not rise any more. I hope that is the final number,” Eduardo del Rosario, director of the Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said of the latest official death toll. “If it rises, it will probably be very slight.”
The deaths from one of the world’s most powerful typhoons rose to about 4 000 yesterday but the aid effort was still so patchy bodies lay uncollected as rescuers tried to evacuate stricken communities across the central Philippines.
The preliminary number of missing as of yesterday, the Red Cross said, rose to 25 000 from 22 000 a day earlier. That could include people who have since been located, it cautioned.
President Benigno Aquino, caught off guard by the scale of the disaster, has been criticised for the slow pace of aid distribution and unclear estimates of casualties, especially in Tacloban, capital of hardest-hit Leyte province.
A notice board in Tacloban City Hall estimated the deaths at 4 000 yesterday, up from 2 000 a day before, in that town alone. Hours later, Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez apologised and said the toll was for the whole central Philippines.
The toll was compiled by officials who started burying bodies in a mass grave on Thursday.
Meanwhile, hundreds of international aid workers set up makeshift hospitals and trucked in supplies, while helicopters from a US aircraft carrier ferried medicine and water to remote areas levelled by Typhoon Haiyan a week ago.
“We are very, very worried about millions of children,” UN Children’s Fund spokesman Marixie Mercado said.
“The response from the international community has not been overwhelming compared to the magnitude of the disaster, but it has been very generous so far,” Jens Laerke of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
Captain Victoriano Sambale, a military doctor who since last weekend has treated patients in a room strewn with dirt and debris in Tacloban said there had been a change in the pace of the response.
“I can see the international support coming here,” he said.
“Day one, we treated 600plus patients. Day two, we had 700-plus patients. Day three we lost our count.”
But massive logistical problems remain. Injured survivors waited in long lines under searing sun for treatment. Local authorities reported shortages of body bags, petrol and staff to collect the dead.
“Bodies are still lying on the roads. But now at least they’re in sections with Department of Health body bags,” Ian Norton, chief of a team of Australian aid workers, said.
“There are a lot of dead people on the street in our neighbourhood, by the trash,” said Aiza Umpacan, a 27-year-old resident of San Jose, one of the worst-hit neighbourhoods.
“There are still a lot of streets that were not visited by the disaster relief operations. They are just going through the highways, not the inner streets,” he said. “The smell is getting worse and we actually have neighbours who have been brought to hospital because they are getting sick.”
The USS George Washington aircraft carrier and accompanying ships arrived off eastern Samar province on Thursday evening, carrying 5 000 crew and 80 aircraft.
US sailors have brought food and water ashore in Tacloban and the Samar province town of Guiuan.
Acting US ambassador Brian Goldbeck, the chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Manila, said the US had moved 174 000kg of emergency supplies into affected areas and evacuated nearly 3 000 people.
A Norwegian merchant navy training vessel arrived at Tacloban yesterday with goods from the UN World Food Programme, including 40 tons of rice, medical equipment and 6 200 body bags.
Boxes of aid were being unloaded at Tacloban’s badly damaged airport, where more than 1 000 people queued for hours, hoping to evacuate.
Hundreds of people, part of nearly a million who have been displaced by the storm, lined up for food and drink at an evacuee processing centre at Mactan Air Base in Cebu, the country’s second-biggest city.
About 522 evacuees passed through the centre on Thursday, with hundreds more arriving yesterday, government co-ordi- nator, Erlinda Parame, said.
In one room, children huddled on a mud-streaked floor watching cartoons on a small television.
Nearby, Gerardo Alvarez, 53, sat strapped to a wheelchair, pulling against the bandages that restrained him.
“The water is coming! I’m going to die!” he shouted.
The traumatised man had escaped the storm surge from a second-storey window of his Tacloban home while his sister and mother, who were praying downstairs, drowned. – Reuters
HOPE: A rainbow appears above Typhoon Haiyan survivors desperate to catch a flight from the airport in Tacloban, capital of the Philippine province of Leyte, yesterday.