Monday, November 11, 2013

In the Philippines, typhoon response hindered by desperation, chaos

  • USS George Washington aircraft carrier to be sent to country to assist with international aid efforts
The typhoon-ravaged Philippine islands faced a daunting relief effort Monday, as bloated bodies lay uncollected and uncounted in the streets and survivors pleaded for food, water and medicine. 

As part of the international effort to assist the Philippines, the U.S. will send the USS George Washington aircraft carrier to the country as the U.S. military ramps assistance after the devastating storm killed an estimated 10,000 people, a U.S. defense official told Reuters Monday evening. The Pentagon said that the USS George Washington and other ships should be in position within 48 to 72 hours. 

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, meanwhile, said he had a declared a "state of national calamity," allowing the central government to release emergency funds quicker and impose price controls on staple goods. He said the two worst-hit provinces, Leyte, where Tacloban is located, and Samar, had witnessed "massive destruction and loss of life" but that elsewhere casualties were low.

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia, speaking with Al Jazeera's Ray Suarez Monday evening, said the immediate needs of the people affected included food, drinking water and temporary shelter. Cuisia also detailed the scope of the storm, citing experts in calling it "the strongest typhoon ever in the history of the Philippines."
Two government officials said Sunday that Friday's typhoon may have killed 10,000 or more people, but with the slow pace of recovery, the official death toll remained well below that. The Philippine military confirmed 942 dead, but shattered communications, transportation links and local governments suggest the final toll is days away. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said "we pray" that the death toll is less than 10,000.

Authorities said at least 9.7 million people in 41 provinces were affected by the typhoon, which is called Yolanda in the Philippines but is known as Haiyan elsewhere in Asia. It is likely the deadliest natural disaster to beset the Southeast Asian nation.

Meanwhile, police are guarding stores to prevent people from hauling off food, water and such non-essentials as TVs and treadmills, 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.

At a small naval base in Tacloban, eight swollen corpses — including that of a baby — were submerged in sea water brought in by the storm, according to The Associated Press. Officers there had yet to move them, saying they had no body bags or electricity to preserve them. The city resembled a garbage 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," U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy said after taking a helicopter flight over the city. He spoke on the tarmac at the airport, where two Marine C-130 cargo planes were parked, engines running, unloading supplies.

Philippine soldiers were distributing food and water in Tacloban, and assessment teams from the United Nations and international agencies were seen for the first time. The U.S. military dispatched food, water, generators and a contingent of Marines to the city, the first outside help in what will swell into a major international relief mission.

"Please tell my family I'm alive," Erika Mae Karakot, a survivor on Tacloban's Leyte island, told the AP 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 diarrhea and dehydration due to shortage of food and water."

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