Thursday 22 February 2018

Philippines: 'Help us please, we need water, food and medicine'

* Rush to bury bodies in mass graves * Fears storm death toll could spiral

Children hold signs asking for help and food along the highway in Tacloban city
Children hold signs asking for help and food along the highway in Tacloban city
A father carries the lifeless body of his daughter on the way to the morgue after super typhoon Haiyan hit Tacloban city in Leyte province, central Philippines
A mother cries in relief upon boarding a Philippine Air Force helicopter
People killed during Typhoon Haiyan are lined up on the side of the road in Tacloban city
An aerial view of buildings destroyed in the aftermath of the massive storm

A state of national calamity was declared across the crisis-ridden Philippines by its president last night as the regions that suffered the full force of Typhoon Haiyan slid into anarchy and disorder.

With the United Nations reporting at least 10,000 now feared dead, survivors of the world's most fearsome storm reported how armed thieves were roaming stricken neighbourhoods, robbing homes of food, which has fast become a currency in its own right.

The massive storm levelled Basey, a seaside town in Samar province about 10km across a bay from Tacloban.

Shared Ann Tan, the Samar governor said that 443 had died and about 2,000 people were missing there alone and warned other towns were equally badly affected. "We had to bury the bodies in mass graves," she said.

"In some cases the devastation has been total," said Rene Almendras, the secretary to the cabinet.

Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, the head of the UN's disaster assessment team in Tacloban City, where Haiyan's tsunami-like storm surges and 195mph-plus winds wreaked most devastation, said anger was growing.

"People are increasingly cross. In disasters like this, you've got a three-day window to try to get aid to people. If they haven't received something by day four, then they're angry."

Gunshots are ringing out in Tacloban every night.

"There's been serious looting and it is still going on," Mr Rhodes Stampa, a 44-year-old former British army officer from Wales, said.

With the stench of the dead bodies floating through the air, the security situation is now so dire that the relief agencies themselves are coming under attack.

"I would not move an aid convoy without a military escort. We'd be stopped and robbed," said Mr Rhodes Stampa. "One of our helicopters flew around some of the areas we haven't been able to reach and it was mobbed each time it landed.

"The situation is bad," he added. "I anticipate a security problem throughout all the affected areas."

Police patrols have emerged to guard stores from looters hauling off food, water and even such non-essentials as TVs and treadmills.

"People have no water, no food, no medicine," said Marie Madamba-Nunez, Oxfam's Manila spokesman. "People are puncturing the few water pipes that have survived in Tacloban to try and get water, that's how desperate it is."

Parts of the country beyond Tacloban remained beyond the reach of the rescue operation yesterday with pictures taken from overflights showing whole towns had been wiped out.

BLACKOUT

Reporters last night managed to breach a total blackout of communications from Guiuan, the 47,000-population town at the southern tip of the island on the Gulf of Leyte where the storm made landfall on Friday.

There too the story was one of violence following the storm.

"It is terrifying here," a frightened resident said.

"There are armed thieves going about. If they know that you have food stored away, they will force their way into your house and rob you at gunpoint."

Pistol-wielding men are reported to be after rice rather than money.

The first relief airdrop was reported to have taken place in the area last night. "There's been a very limited distribution of food and water and people are complaining about the lack of supplies," said Kendra Clegg, a member of the UN disaster and assessment team on Panay Island in the Visayas island group to the west of Tacloban, where many coastal communities have been completely cut off from the outside world for the last four days.

On neighbouring Cebu Island, where 98pc of the homes in the far north have been destroyed, the rations for families are being cut by the day.

"Supplies of food are dwindling," said Tata Abella, the leader of an Oxfam team in the area. "At first, each family was getting five kilos of rice a day from the local government. Now, it's three kilos. Tomorrow, it might go down again."

The challenge of moving aid around a country of more than 7,000 islands is immense, with airports, harbours and roads in the worst-affected regions having suffered massive damage.

Adding to the threat of widespread, major disorder is the frightful spectre of disease from water contaminated by the storm surges.

Oxfam has witnessed the first signs of illness.

"People are already suffering from diarrhoea and we haven't seen any doctors in the areas we have been to," said Ms Abella. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

By David Eimer Manila

Irish Independent

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