Dingy airport building now a city’s only hospital
Lack of doctors, facilities complicate situation in Tacloban
TACLOBAN, PHILIPPINES | A rundown, single-story building with filthy floors at Tacloban’s ruined airport has become the area’s main medical center for victims of last week’s powerful typhoon. It has little medicine, virtually no facilities and very few doctors. What it is not short of are patients. Hundreds of injured people, pregnant women, children and the elderly have poured into the squat, white building behind the control tower since Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the eastern Philippines on Friday, killing thousands. Doctors who have been dealing with cuts, fractures and pregnancy’ complications said Wednesday they soon expect to be treating more serious problems such as pneumonia, dehydration, diarrhea and infections.
The medical woes add to the daunting tasks for authorities, including dealing with looters and clearing the bottlenecks holding up thousands of tons of aid material from coming in.
“The priority has got to be: let’s get the food in, let’s get the water in. We got a lot more come in today. But even that won’t be enough. We really need to scale up operation in an ongoing basis,” U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters after touring Talcoban, the capital of Leyte province.
Her office has released $25 million in emergency relief funds, accounting for a chunk of the millions of dollars pledged by countries around the world.
While the cogs of what promises to be a massive international aid effort are beginning to turn, they are not quick enough for the 600,000 people displaced, many of them homeless, hungry and thirsty.
With the Tacloban airport battered and roads made impassable by debris, very little aid has arrived in the city. Most of it is stuck in Manila and the nearby airport of Cebu, a 45-minute flight away.
Many among the desperate residents have resorted to raiding for food. Mobs overran a rice warehouse on Leyte, collapsing a wall that killed eight people. Thousands of sacks of the grain were carted off.
A 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was in place.
“There’s a lot of dead bodies outside. There’s no water, no food,” said Dr. Victoriano Sambale, one of the dozen medical staff tending to thousands of people at the airport clinic.
Until Wednesday, there was no anesthetic, so open wounds had to be stitched without it.
“Patients had to endure the pain,” Dr. Sambale said.
The air inside the clinic was fetid. Babies screamed and despondent elderly patients sat in chairs, eating dry crackers. One woman singing a lullaby nursed her newborn. Intravenous drip bags hung from nails driven into the walls and doorjambs.
The death toll rose to 2,344, according a national tally kept by the disaster agency. That figure is expected to rise.