Philippine Typhoon Survivors Flee City as Aid Trickles InJoel Guinto, Cecilia Yap and Clarissa Batino
Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan sought to flee a city devastated by the storm in the southern Philippines as emergency aid became bottlenecked and hungry and exhausted locals resorted to looting.
“The magnitude of the devastation is overwhelming and our communication lines are still down,” regional military spokesman Lieutenant Senior Grade Jim Alagao said today in the neighboring city of Cebu.
Two Philippine Air Force C-130 planes are making repeated round trips from Cebu to the area that bore the brunt of Haiyan, a super typhoon that the government said killed at least 2,275 people when it hit on Nov. 8. About 1,000 people were lined up at the airport in the city of Tacloban yesterday in a bid to leave and that number is rising, said military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Marciano Jesus Guevara.
“Two cargo planes is not enough, if we can have more we can move things faster,” Guevara said in an interview in Cebu.
As aid agencies called for donations and countries sent supplies and assistance teams, relief efforts were 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.
“We prioritize the delivery of food, clothing, shelter,” Guevara said. On return trips to Cebu, the sick, injured and elderly are given priority, with as many as 100 people able to fit on each flight.
Nelly Cernal, a 46-year-old health worker, walked with one of her four children for four hours to the Tacloban airport to board one of the C-130 flights today to Cebu. “People are leaving Tacloban because they fear for their lives,” Cernal said, with looting worsening. “Everything was wiped out, dead bodies of humans and animals scattered and near decomposition,” she said.
After the typhoon the family survived on food scavenged from the ruins of their house, Cernal said, and then were given rice and noodles by neighbors who had looted stores. “We got nothing from the government. We heard all the relief goods are stuck in city hall.”
Dead bodies in Tacloban are starting to rot, according to Ethilda Abiertas, a 51-year-old widow who was on the same flight out of Tacloban. “I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “There were bodies and debris everywhere.” Some people were carried off the flight on stretchers to waiting ambulances and wheelchairs.
Eight people were crushed to death after thousands stormed the National Food Authority rice warehouse in Leyte province, where Tacloban is located, spokesman Rex Estoperez said by phone.
In Tacloban, television images showed bodies on the streets and floating in the sea, homes reduced to rubble, roads blocked by felled trees and crops flattened. Announcing the latest death toll today, Eduardo del Rosario, administrator of the Office of Civil Defense, told a briefing that at least 80 people are missing and 3,665 were injured.
“It’s a logistical nightmare,” Medecins Sans Frontiers, whose emergency teams have been in Cebu since Nov. 9, said in a statement on its website. “Transport links to the area have been seriously disrupted, which has made access particularly difficult.”
Cebu airspace is congested, it said. “Our cargo planes currently in the air will most likely have to divert to Manila because it will not be possible to land in Cebu.”
The United Nations is seeking $301 million from donors, David Carden, the UN humanitarian affairs representative in the Philippines, said yesterday in Manila. About 6.9 million people have been affected by the storm across 41 provinces, with nearly 150,000 houses damaged, the government said.
“This will come out to be one of largest logistics operations ever done in history,” Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said at a briefing in Manila. “We need to coordinate how we’re going to work with international community.”
The death toll would make Haiyan of the deadliest storms in the country’s history. In late 2012 Typhoon Bopha killed 1,067 while Thelma killed 5,080 in late 1991.
“The logistical requirements are so big that the government is strongly overwhelmed,” Earl Parreno, an analyst at the Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said by phone. “Few people in Eastern Visayas have the capacity to evacuate,” Parreno said. “Most of them have no choice but to stay in Leyte province, and joblessness will be a problem with commerce at a standstill.”
The government has 18.7 billion pesos ($427 million) to fund reconstruction, Aquino said Nov. 11. There is no plan to sell bonds to fund rebuilding, Treasurer Rosalia de Leon said in a mobile-phone message, and the Treasury has “enough liquidity” for rebuilding.
The peso was steady against the U.S. dollar as of 2 p.m. after yesterday weakening to its lowest level since the middle of September. The benchmark equity index was also flat.
“It’s a risk to the growth momentum and will probably raise prices,” BDO Unibank Inc. chief market strategist Jonathan Ravelas said by phone of the typhoon’s damage. Still, “even if prices rise, the central bank will still meet its targets,” Ravelas said.
Gross domestic product in areas hit by the typhoon may decline as much as 10 percent next year, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima told Bloomberg Television yesterday. The regions affected account for 12.5 percent of national output, he said.
Field hospitals with teams from countries such as Belgium, Japan, Israel and Norway are on the ground, the World Health Organization said in a statement. Malaysia will send a C-130 plane with food, water and tarpaulins to Tacloban while Indonesia will send 75 tons of blankets and other items, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Secretariat said on its Twitter account.
The U.S. carrier USS George Washington is en route to the Philippines and the White House said in a statement that President Barack Obama expressed his condolences in a call with Aquino.
All airports affected by Haiyan are operational, with Tacloban airport open for relief efforts and some commercial operations, according to the government’s disaster-monitoring agency. Power outages are still occurring in some areas.
The government must better protect communities at risk, Senator Loren Legarda, chairman of the upper house committee on climate change, said yesterday in a statement.
“We need to rebuild communities with the confidence that we are not rebuilding the risks again,” Legarda said.