independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Typhoon survivors beg for help; Philippine rescuers struggle

Dazed survivors of a super typhoon that swept through the central Philippines killing an estimated 10,000 people begged for help and scavenged for food, water and medicine, threatening to overwhelm military and rescue resources.

* Death toll could rise once isolated coastal villages are reached

* Roads, airports and bridges destroyed

* U.S. sends Marines and sailors to help

As President Benigno Aquino deployed hundreds of soldiers in the coastal city of Tacloban to quell looting, reports from one town showed apocalyptic scenes of destruction in another region that has not been reached by rescue workers or the armed forces.

The government has not confirmed officials' estimates over the weekend of 10,000 deaths, but the toll from Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded, is clearly far higher than the current official count of 255. The Armed Forces in the central Philippines  reported a death toll of 942.

"The situation is bad, the devastation has been significant. In some cases the devastation has been total," Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras told a news conference.

A man points at one of the bags containing bodies of typhoon victims in Tacloban city, which was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, in central Philippines November 12, 2013. Rescue workers tried to reach towns and villages in the central Philippines on Tuesday that were cut off by the powerful typhoon, fearing the estimated death toll of 10,000 could jump sharply, as relief efforts intensified with the help of U.S. military.    REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco (PHILIPPINES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT)
A man points at one of the bags containing bodies of typhoon victims in Tacloban city, which was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, in central Philippines November 12, 2013. Rescue workers tried to reach towns and villages in the central Philippines on Tuesday that were cut off by the powerful typhoon, fearing the estimated death toll of 10,000 could jump sharply, as relief efforts intensified with the help of U.S. military.

The United Nations said officials in Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the storm on Friday, had reported one mass grave of 300-500 bodies.

More than 600,000 people were displaced by the storm across the country and some have no access to food, water, or medicine, the U.N. says.

Flattened by surging waves and monster winds up to 235 mph (378 kph), Tacloban, 580 km (360 miles) southeast of Manila, was relying almost entirely for supplies and evacuation on just three military transport planes flying from nearby Cebu city.

Dozens of residents clamoured for help at the airport gates.

"Help us, help us. Where is President Aquino? We need water, we are very thirsty," shouted one woman. "When are you going to get bodies from the streets?"

Haiyan is estimated to have destroyed about 70 to 80 percent of structures in its path as it tore into the coastal provinces of Leyte and Samar. The damage to the coconut- and rice-growing region was expected to amount to more than 3 billion pesos ($69 million), Citi Research said in a report, with "massive losses" for private property.

Most of the damage and deaths were caused by huge waves that inundated towns and swept away coastal villages in scenes that officials likened to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Bodies litter the streets of the Tacloban, rotting and swelling under the hot sun and adding to the health risk.

International aid agencies said relief resources in the Philippines were stretched thin after a 7.2 magnitude quake in central Bohol province last month and displacement caused by a conflict with Muslim rebels in southern Zamboanga province.

Operations were further hampered because roads, airports and bridges had been destroyed or were covered in wreckage. Threatening to add to the crisis in the impoverished area, a tropical depression carrying heavy rain was forecast to arrive in the region as early as Tuesday.

Awelina Hadloc, the owner of a convenience store, foraged for instant noodles at a warehouse that was almost bare from looting. She said her store had been washed away by a 10-foot (3-metre) storm surge.

"It is so difficult. It is like we are starting again," said the 28-year-old. "There are no more supplies in the warehouse and the malls."

Aquino, facing one of the biggest challenges of his three-year rule, deployed 300 soldiers and police to restore order in Tacloban after looters rampaged through several stores.

Aquino, who before the storm said the government was aiming for zero casualties, has shown exasperation at conflicting official reports on damage and deaths. One TV network quoted him as telling the head of the disaster agency that he was running out of patience.

The official death toll is likely to climb rapidly once rescuers reach remote villages along the coast, such as Guiuan, a town in eastern Samar province with a population of 40,000 that was largely destroyed.

"The only reason why we have no reports of casualties up to now is that communications systems ... are down," said Colonel John Sanchez, posting on the Armed Forces Facebook page.

About 300 people died in Samar, said an official from the provincial disaster agency. Baco, a city of 35,000 in Oriental Mindoro province, was 80 percent under water, the U.N. said.

U.S. aid groups also launched a multimillion-dollar relief campaign. An official from one group, World Vision, said there were early reports that as much as 90 percent of northern Cebu had been destroyed. An aid team from Oxfam reported "utter destruction" in the northern-most tip of Cebu.

Thirteen people were killed and dozens hurt during heavy winds and storms in Vietnam as Haiyan approached the coast, state media reported, even though it had weakened substantially after hitting the Philippines.

 

(By Manuel Mogato and Roli Ng)

 

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