Rescuers Race to Philippines as Typhoon Death Toll Climbs
Rescue workers from Japan to Singapore are rushing to the Philippines after the year’s most powerful typhoon flattened buildings and unleashed storm surges that may have killed as many as 10,000 people, and as a new storm approaches.
Super Typhoon Haiyan weakened into a tropical depression as it reached Vietnam yesterday, with no reports of casualties. A tropical depression is threatening Mindanao island in the southern Philippines and may pass through areas hit by Haiyan, prompting the weather bureau to issue the lowest storm warning in its four-level alert system.
Japan and Singapore are among countries sending in relief teams, while the Australian government announced A$10 million ($9.4 million) in assistance and China Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the government and local Red Cross will collectively donate $200,000. The Philippine government warned the devastation may adversely impact the economy and sent in police and soldiers to prevent looting as survivors searched for food. The peso and stocks weakened.
“People are looting because they are hungry,” the country’s police chief Alan Purisima told reporters today in Manila. “The supplies we placed on standby were also washed away by the storm. Most of our police in storm-hit areas are either missing or affected.”
The United Nations said it is stepping up relief operations, with much of the destruction concentrated in and around Tacloban city, the capital of Leyte province. The difficulty in reaching the hardest-hit areas means the number of casualties has yet to be confirmed, said the Red Cross in Geneva, which cited Philippine authorities as saying the death toll may reach 10,000.
The UN and other humanitarian agencies have “quickly ramped up critical relief operations to help families in desperate need,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement yesterday. “While many communities are very difficult to reach, with roads, airports and bridges destroyed or blocked with debris, agencies have begun airlifting food, health, shelter, medical and other life-saving supplies.”
President Benigno Aquino traveled to Tacloban yesterday to view the aftermath of the storm. Television images from the city showed bodies on the streets and floating in the sea, homes reduced to rubble, structures with their roofs ripped off and roads blocked by felled trees.
The peso weakened 0.9 percent to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar since the middle of September, and the nation’s benchmark equity index dropped 1.4 by the close, its biggest fall since Sept. 30.
“Given the growing vulnerability of our country to natural disasters amid climate change, we should contemplate more decisive measures,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University. “The government must order mandatory evacuation of all vulnerable areas” and build concrete bunkers to better protect against storms, he said.
The U.S. Department of Defense said it will assist with maritime search and rescue efforts, while the British Embassy in Manila announced an aid package of as much as 414 million pesos ($9.5 million). “We stand ready to further assist the government’s relief and recovery efforts,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement released by the White House.
There were 942 people confirmed killed in the Visayas region, which takes in Tacloban, military spokesman Lieutenant Jim Alagao said by phone today. Major Rey Balido, a spokesman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said the death toll was expected to rise. Almost 9.7 million Filipinos, or a 10th of the population, have been affected by the typhoon, he said in a mobile-phone message.
“The trouble is in some western highlands there is no access so nobody can confirm these estimates” on the death toll, David Pierre Maquet, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said by phone from Geneva.
The UN World Food Programme, the largest humanitarian organization in the world, estimates 2.5 million people will require emergency assistance and has mobilized an initial $2 million for its response. “This is destruction on a massive scale,” Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, head of the UN Disaster Assessment Coordination Team, said in a statement.
“We’re talking about power, we’re talking food and water” as priorities, Aquino told reporters yesterday in Tacloban city. “We want to be able to send the correct assets to address the correctly identified problems at the soonest possible time,” he said.
Soldiers have been deployed to stop people looting as they wait for food aid. “This report of looting is very new to our experience, collective experience as a country,” Aquino said. The greatest challenge is “showing the people here that they don’t have to be desperate,” he said.
The government has no plans to declare martial law in storm-hit areas and is studying declaring a state of emergency, Aquino spokesman Edwin Lacierda said. Police and military reinforcements will help “restore peace and order” and ensure the delivery of supplies, Lacierda said today in a mobile-phone message.
More than 23,190 homes were damaged, the disaster agency said today. Tacloban airport has reopened for limited commercial operations, with the city also accessible by land and sea from Luzon, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said at a briefing today in Manila.
At 10 a.m. Manila time, tropical depression Zoraida was 830 kilometers (515 miles) southeast of Hinatuan in Surigao del Sur province, with maximum sustained winds of 55 kilometers per hour near the center. It is expected to reach Tagbilaran city in Bohol, a province hit by a magnitude-7.2 earthquake last month, by Wednesday morning.
Typhoon Haiyan changed course late yesterday and after passing over several provinces in Vietnam reached southern Guangxi in China around 11 a.m. Vietnam time, according to a statement on the website of the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting. Thirteen people were killed in the country, mostly from accidents during storm preparations, the Dan Tri news website reported today, citing the National Committee for Search and Rescue.
Aquino said Nov. 9 the government is prepared to use 23 billion pesos from various agencies and his discretionary fund for relief and rebuilding of towns and provinces.
The Philippines was the nation most affected by natural disasters in 2012, with more than 2,000 deaths, according to the Brussels-based Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.
Haiyan’s total economic impact may reach $14 billion, about $2 billion of which will be insured, according to a report by Jonathan Adams, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Industries, citing Kinetic Analysis Corp.
Gross domestic product in areas hit by the typhoon may decline as much as 8 percent next year, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said in a mobile-phone message, citing preliminary estimates. The regions affected account for about 12.5 percent of the nation’s output, he said.
Between 50,000 tons and 120,000 tons of sugar may have been lost due to crop damage in the area, which accounts for more than half of nation’s sugar plantations, Sugar Regulatory Administration head Regina Martin told reporters in Manila. The agriculture department said 131,611 tons of rice were lost, accounting for 1.8 percent of the last quarter’s production target.
Haiyan missed the coffee belt in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, Nguyen Dai Nguong, head of the Dak Lak Meteorology and Hydrology Department, said by phone today.
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