Long-delayed emergency supplies flowed into the typhoon-ravaged central Philippines yesterday, reaching desperate families who had to fend for themselves for days as the UN more than doubled its estimate of homeless to nearly two million.
The aid effort was still patchy, with relief officials reporting a surge in desperate, hungry survivors trying to leave the coastal city of Ormoc, 105km west of Tacloban, the worst-affected major city.
More than a week after Typhoon Haiyan killed at least 3,633 with tree-snapping winds and tsunami-like waves, hundreds of international aid workers set up makeshift hospitals and trucked in supplies. Helicopters from a US aircraft carrier ferried medicine and water to remote, battered areas.
Residents of Tanauan, a fishing town about 15km south-east of Tacloban, said they only started receiving substantial aid on Friday after being forced to survive on biscuits and dispose of dead bodies on their own for days.
More than 60 people were buried behind the municipal office in the district of 50,000 people. Down the road, dozens of corpses were interred under a roundabout.
In one ward of Tanauan, neighbourhood chief Cecilio Yepes Jnr estimated his community lost nearly 10 per cent of its 1,176 residents. Here, the storm surge has transformed an entire swampy plain into a rubbish pile of trees and debris.
Locals have recovered and buried 30 bodies. Another 98 remain somewhere in the vast wasteland that stretches on either side of the road.
At least 800 people died in the district of Palo, which lies between Tanauan and Tacloban, national authorities said.
In Tacloban, work crews and heavy equipment cleared debris from roadsides, but side streets remained piled with the sodden, tangled remains of homes, which city officials fear could reveal hundreds more bodies when they are eventually cleared.
There are 1,179 people missing, according to the national count. The official death toll only rose by 12 yesterday, giving hope that initial local estimates of 10,000 dead were overblown.
In front of Tacloban's San Fernando Elementary School, government workers distributed sacks of aid to a restless crowd of hundreds who had spent the last week camped in shattered wooden classrooms or in a main school building with floors covered in wet black sand.
Nearby, about a dozen body bags were neatly lined up by the roadside.
Rica Mobilla, an 18-year-old mother of one, said local authorities showed up two days after the disaster, handing out 4kg of rice and a few packs of noodles for her family of 13.
The family stretched this out with onions and garlic bought from the market.
"I'm upset. I'm not blaming anyone. If there's aid there to give out, we'll receive it," she said.
President Benigno Aquino, caught off guard by the scale of the disaster, is scheduled to visit typhoon-affected areas today. He has been criticised for the slow pace of aid distribution and unclear estimates of casualties, especially in Tacloban, capital of hardest-hit Leyte province.
- Aubrey Belford