Philippine Typhoon Survivors Camp Out as Aid Bottlenecked

Tacloban Airport
People wait to board a rescue flight at Tacloban Airport on Nov. 14, 2013. Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Emergency supplies began to trickle into areas in the central Philippines devastated a week ago by Typhoon Haiyan, as officials worked to clear a logjam that has left some survivors without food or medical aid.

While large crowds seeking to leave thronged the airport at Tacloban city, which bore the brunt of the storm, incoming military flights carried teams of aid workers who started to fan out into affected areas as officials sought to clear roads and bring in trucks to carry supplies from the airport.

The government now has 35 trucks, forklifts and other heavy equipment in the area to deliver supplies, collect bodies and clear roads, with eight more to be deployed today, Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte told reporters in Manila.

“Producing and moving supplies is a daily challenge” and the government is “exploring other ways” to deliver aid, Valte said. A private cargo ship with five truckloads of supplies left Manila today and should arrive in Tacloban on Sunday, she said.

Relief efforts have been hindered by roads washed away or blocked by debris, a lack of vehicles to transport aid from Tacloban airport and gridlock at airstrips in Cebu, staging grounds for the relief operation. The typhoon brought gale force winds and storm surges when it slammed into the region on Nov. 8, with more than 3,600 people killed, the country’s disaster agency said.

‘Logistical Nightmare’

More flights are able today to take off from the air base in Cebu today, as the military works to clear a backlog of supplies, Lieutenant General Roy Deveraturda, chief of the central command of the Philippines Armed Forces, said by phone.

“After several days struggling to get transport space for a small medical team and supplies,” a team of six reached Tacloban, Medecins Sans Frontieres said in a statement yesterday. “It’s a logistical nightmare,” spokeswoman Baikong Mamid said by e-mail.

The government is doing “everything it can,” President Benigno Aquino told volunteers last night at an aid packing station in Manila. “We need to speed things up,” Aquino said. “If this drags, people there could grow desperate.”

Aid delivery has been hampered by a lack of communications and electricity, he said. Aquino plans to travel to the disaster area tomorrow.

Field hospitals are being set up in Tacloban, alongside teams bringing water purifiers. The U.S. aircraft carrier George Washington arrived to help with the delivery of supplies and search and rescue.

Death Toll

The United Nations said the typhoon killed at least 4,460 people, making it one of the deadliest in Philippine history. Major Rey Balido, spokesman of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, told reporters today in Manila the death toll stood at 3,621. In its morning update, the NDRRMC said 3,853 people were injured and 77 missing, with more than 9 million people affected, of whom 1.48 million were displaced.

“All our assets are now moving resources from Tacloban out to multiple points, I think 16 or 18 drop points yesterday and the same number today,” U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires Brian Goldbeck told reporters in Manila today. “Good distribution is now happening to many areas that may not have seen distribution before.”

Tacloban airport remains packed with evacuees, said recent arrivals in Cebu. “There are more people every day,” said Liam Pido, 18, a student who left on an Australian military aircraft along with 16 others in his extended family. “Uncountable. Can’t be counted.”

Food and water are starting to reach communities near the airport, said Liam’s 48-year-old mother Nona Pido. “Peace and order has improved since the armies from different countries arrived,” she said.

Tents Waiting

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has 2,200 tents at Cebu airbase waiting to be sent to Tacloban, supply officer Mario Pajarillaga said in an interview. “The challenge is we don’t know how many flights they can accommodate” into Tacloban, he said.

U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Paul Kennedy said the U.S. was bringing a generator to Tacloban to restore power.

“This is day five of our effort,” Kennedy said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “From what I saw from the first day on Monday compared to what you would see today, were you to come out here, it’s night and day.”

The Philippines had received 5.4 billion pesos ($124 million) in international assistance as of noon today, Foreign Affairs Spokesman Raul Hernandez said in an e-mail.

Japan will give a further $20 million in emergency grant aid, its Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding to the $10 million announced earlier.

‘Every Minute’

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 Manila yesterday. Eastern Visayas covers Leyte and Samar islands.

Still, Aquino must better mobilize the military and police, 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 yesterday. “When he declared a state of national calamity, people expected him to take charge,” he added. “This event will define his presidency.”

Melba Villegas, 36, arrived on a C-130 plane in Manila from Tacloban today with two teenage daughters, and plans to find work near the capital. “My husband, my eight children and I survived the 20-foot water from the sea holding on to felled coconut trees and empty water containers,” she said, showing a big wound in her head.

Fighting for Food

About 150 people are trying to leave the town of Guiuan in East Samar province, said Rose Waldeck, 55. Her family fled on board a U.S. aircraft with the help of her American neighbor. “People there are getting hungry,” she said in Cebu. “They’re all fighting for food, water, they are all homeless.”

Guiuan suffered extensive damage with almost all buildings destroyed, Medecins Sans Frontieres said yesterday. “The local hospital is also severely damaged and not functional,” it said

Some ordinary people are seeking to go into the area. Grace Pasagui, 45, has been waiting at the Air Force headquarters in Manila since yesterday, hoping to get to the town of Dagami in Leyte to check on her husband and four children. “We have no word about our relatives there. We don’t know if they are still alive,” a tearful Pasagui said.

“There have been criticisms, which we accept,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said yesterday in Manila. “We don’t deny that there have been shortcomings, but these were due to severe constraints.”

Economic Growth

Philippine economic growth this quarter may slow to a range of 4.1 percent to 5.9 percent as a result of the storm, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said in a mobile-phone message yesterday.

The government is preparing a reconstruction plan which includes a proposal to boost infrastructure spending to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2014, from an earlier plan of 3 percent, Balisacan separately told reporters in Manila today. Rebuilding will be “very, very costly,” he said.

The benchmark Manila stock index rose 0.3 percent today, with the peso slipping 0.2 percent against the U.S. dollar to 43.65.

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