Medical teams, aid workers and soldiers crammed onto flights to Tacloban city in central Philippines as survivors told of desperation over the trickle of supplies to the area six days after Typhoon Haiyan caused massive destruction.
Philippine Air Force planes were making round trips from neighboring Cebu to the area that bore the brunt of Haiyan, a super typhoon that the government said killed at least 2,357 people. The planes ferried in aid workers and supplies, and brought out survivors, mostly the elderly and injured.
Tens of thousands of people are living in the open or in damaged buildings, exposed to rain and wind, said Valerie Amos, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. “Medical facilities for those who were injured, food, clean water and basic sanitation are urgently required,” she said at a briefing in Manila. “The situation is dismal. People are extremely vulnerable and desperate for help.”
Field hospitals are being set up in Tacloban. Two teams operating water purifiers will be sent to the city, Luigi D’Angelo, leader of the European Civil Protection Team, told reporters in Cebu.
As aid agencies called for donations and countries sent supplies and teams, relief efforts were still being hampered by roads washed away or blocked by debris, a lack of vehicles to transport aid from Tacloban airport, and gridlock at Cebu airstrips. The desperation among survivors in Tacloban led President Benigno Aquino to declare a state of calamity on Nov. 11 and plead with locals to be patient.
The country’s disaster agency said 3,853 people were injured in the typhoon, which destroyed nearly 240,000 homes and caused 4.1 billion pesos ($94.2 million) in infrastructure and farm output damage. About 11.5 million people were affected, with 545,000 displaced, the UN’s Amos said.
Survivors arriving by plane in Cebu from Tacloban said they weren’t warned of the seriousness of the typhoon. “Even our mayor didn’t understand what a storm surge is,” said Michael Angelo Tan, 29, who saw 20 people dead in the city’s convention center. “They were trapped there by the water, there was a stampede,” he said.
“The government was not prepared,” said Rina Pontejos, a 29-year-old cashier. “Village guards at least should have given warnings and asked people to evacuate. What were they there for?” Tacloban has a population of about 221,000.
Melanie Valdestamon, a 29-year-old nurse, said her house was hit by knee-deep water even though it was some distance from the shore. “We tied big water bottles to a mattress to build a raft for our baby so he would survive.”
The Red Cross is sending 1,500 more body bags to Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province, to add to the 500 it already dispatched, Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon told reporters in Cebu. “We’re picking the bodies up, managing the dead,” Gordon said.
Relief efforts needed to be better coordinated, he added. “I’m being careful, I don’t want my people to get hurt. Somebody must be in charge there.”
About 2,000 soldiers and policemen are in the Eastern Visayas region following looting incidents in Leyte, Office of Civil Defense Administrator Eduardo del Rosario said in a televised briefing in Manila. Eastern Visayas covers Leyte and Samar islands. “The peace and order situation on the ground is improving,” del Rosario said.
Soldier Carlo Octa, 24, whose house in Burauen town in Leyte was destroyed, said he paid 2,800 pesos for a sack of rice and some dried fish in a market 41 kilometers (25.5 miles) from his home. A 50-kilogram sack of rice sells for 1,800 pesos in Manila. “There are relief goods stocked in the town proper,” he said by phone. “They have yet to be distributed.”
Survivors who arrived in Cebu from Guiuan in East Samar province said some residents ignored advice to evacuate.
Elaine Pading, 42, scheduled a live band performance in her karaoke restaurant on the night of the storm, thinking the winds wouldn’t be that strong. The roof of her restaurant was ripped off and windows smashed. “We thought we wouldn’t live until the next morning,” she said.
Jason Gagala, 30, and his wife hid their 10-month old son in a cabinet in their home during the storm. “The people of Guiuan did not prepare,” he said. Police in patrol cars and speaking on megaphones toured the town beforehand, appealing for residents to leave.
“We are seeking for understanding in this situation” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said in a briefing in Manila. “The severity and the magnitude of this disaster is unprecedented and unparalleled in previous experience. In this context, we have to understand that the demands were also extraordinary.”
President Aquino must better mobilize the military and police to collect bodies and distribute aid, said Ramon Casiple, Executive Director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila.
“He is running out of time and every minute counts,” Casiple said by phone. “When he declared a state of national calamity, people expected him to take charge,” he added. “This event will define his presidency.”
The military is focusing on carrying in food and medicine as there are now enough troops in the area, said Brigadier General Raymundo Elefante, commander at the Mactan Air Base in Cebu. “Number one priority is that people there are hungry,” he said in an interview.
The military has transported more than 6,000 people from Tacloban and Ormoc in Leyte and from Guiuan in Eastern Samar, Lieutenant Jim Alagao said by phone from Cebu. “Most of them are typhoon victims, some are rescuers,” Alagao said.
Electricity in areas hardest hit by the storm may be back on by Dec. 24, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla said today in Manila. To prevent hoarding, the government has limited oil purchases to two liters per motorcycle and 500 pesos worth for cars each day, he said in an interview. “Some gas stations don’t want to open because of fear they may be mobbed.”
Japan, which will donate $10 million and has medical teams on the ground, will send 1,000 Self-Defense Force troops, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday on his Facebook page. Japan’s Defense Ministry said it is preparing to send in three vessels, plus helicopters and planes.
The death toll would make Haiyan one of the deadliest storms in the country’s history. In late 2012 Typhoon Bopha killed 1,067, while the death toll from Thelma reached 5,080 in late 1991.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at email@example.com