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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Typhoon's survivors beg for help

The devastation in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines (AP)
The devastation in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines (AP)
A survivor writes a message asking for help in Tacloban city (AP)
The devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city in the central Philippines.
A man among the rubble of houses damaged by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city.

Survivors in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines have begged the world for help as a massive relief operation struggled to get underway, with bodies lying uncounted in the streets amid shortages of food, water and medicine.

Police guarded shops to prevent looting, but there was often no one to carry away the dead - not even those seen along the main road from the airport to Tacloban, the worst-hit city along the country's remote eastern seaboard.

Typhoon Haiyan is feared to have killed at least 10,000 people, but with the slow pace of recovery, the official death toll remained well below that.

Tacloban resembled a rubbish dump from the air, punctuated only by a few concrete buildings that remained standing.

"I don't believe there is a single structure that is not destroyed or severely damaged in some way - every single building, every single house," US Marine General Paul Kennedy said after taking a helicopter flight over the city.

At least two million people in 41 provinces were affected by Haiyan, one of the most powerful recorded typhoons to ever hit land.

Philippine soldiers were distributing food and water in Tacloban, and teams from the United Nations and other international agencies were seen for the first time.

"Please tell my family I'm alive," said Erika Mae Karakot, a survivor on Tacloban's Leyte island, as she lined up for aid. "We need water and medicine because a lot of the people we are with are wounded. Some are suffering from diarrhoea and dehydration due to shortage of food and water."

Around 800,000 people were evacuated ahead of the typhoon, but many centres - brick-and-mortar schools, churches and government buildings - could not withstand the winds and water surges. Those who had huddled in them drowned or were swept away.

The winds, rains and coastal storm surges transformed neighborhoods into twisted piles of debris, blocking roads and trapping decomposing bodies underneath. Ships were tossed inland, cars and trucks swept out to sea and bridges and ports washed away.

Residents have stripped malls, shops and homes of food, water and consumer goods. Officials said some of the looting smacked of desperation but in other cases items taken included TVs, refrigerators, Christmas trees and a treadmill. Philippine president Benigno Aquino III said he was considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in Tacloban.

Meanwhile there were worries that aid would not arrive soon enough.

"We're afraid that it's going to get dangerous in town because relief goods are trickling in very slow," said Bobbie Womack, an American missionary and longtime Tacloban resident from Athens, Tennessee. "I know it's a massive, massive undertaking to try to feed a town of over 150,000 people. They need to bring in shiploads of food."

Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday and quickly barreled across its central islands, packing winds guswting to 170 mph.

It inflicted serious damage to at least six islands in the middle of the eastern seaboard, with Leyte, Samar and the northern part of Cebu appearing to bear the brunt of the storm.

Video from Eastern Samar province's Guiuan township - the first area where the typhoon made landfall - showed a trail of devastation similar to Tacloban. Many houses were flattened and roads were strewn with debris and uprooted trees.

"I have no house, I have no clothes. I don't know how I will restart my life. I am so confused," one woman said, crying. "I don't know what happened to us. We are appealing for help. Whoever has a good heart, I appeal to you - please help Guiuan."

The United Nations said it was sending supplies but access to the worst hit areas was difficult.

The storm's sustained winds weakened to 75 mph as it made landfall in northern Vietnam early Monday after crossing the South China Sea. There were no reports of significant damage or injuries.

-AP

Press Association

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