x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Typhoon Haiyan survivors beg for help as rescuers struggle

President declares a state of national calamity and deploys hundreds of soldiers in the coastal city of Tacloban to quell looting, as survivors beg for help and scavenge for food.

An aerial photo of destroyed buildings and the airport terminal (upper right) in the city of Tacloban. Ted Aljibe / AFP
An aerial photo of destroyed buildings and the airport terminal (upper right) in the city of Tacloban. Ted Aljibe / AFP

TACLOBAN // Dazed survivors begged for help and scavenged for food, water and medicine on Monday after a super typhoon killed an estimated 10,000 in the central Philippines.

Philippine president Benigno Aquino declared a state of national calamity and deployed hundreds of soldiers in the coastal city of Tacloban to quell looting.

The huge scale of death and destruction from Super Typhoon Haiyan on Friday became clearer as reports emerged of thousands of people missing.

The Philippine military has confirmed 942 dead, but shattered communications, transportation links and local governments suggest the final toll is days away. The presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said “we pray” that the death toll is less than 10,000.

The United Nations said more than 600,000 people were displaced by the storm across the country. Philippine authorities said at least 9.7 million people in 41 provinces were affected by the typhoon.

More bad weather was on the way with a depression due to bring rain to the central and southern Philippines on Tuesday, the weather bureau said.

“The situation is bad, the devastation has been significant. In some cases the devastation has been total,” said Rene Almendras, the secretary to the cabinet.

Most of the damage and deaths were caused by waves that inundated towns, washed ships ashore and swept away villages in scenes reminiscent of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Tacloban city, the capital of Leyte province where about 10,000 people are feared dead, was flattened by surging waves and winds of more than 300kph.

The city of about 200,000 was relying almost entirely for supplies and evacuation on just three military transport planes flying from nearby Cebu city.

Dozens of residents clamoured for help at the airport gates yesterday.

“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,” Brig Gen Paul Kennedy of the US Marines 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 UN and other international agencies were seen for the first time. The US 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.

“We need water and medicine because a lot of the people we are with are wounded,” said Erika Mae Karakot, a survivor in Tacloban, as she lined up for aid. “Some are suffering from diarrhoea and dehydration due to shortage of food and water.”

Bodies littered the streets of the city, rotting and swelling under the sun. People walked covering their noses with rags or old clothes to mask the stench.

Tacloban’s administration appeared to be in disarray as city and hospital workers focused on saving their own families and securing food.

Operations were further hampered because roads, airports and bridges had been destroyed or were covered in wreckage.

Brig Gen Kennedy said Philippine forces were handling security well, and that his forces were “looking at how to open up roads and land planes and helicopters. We got shelter coming in” and the US Agency for International Development was bringing in water and supplies”.

But the storm victims were worried that aid would not arrive soon enough.

“We’re afraid that it’s going to get dangerous in town because relief goods are trickling in very slow,” said Bobbie Womack, an American missionary and longtime Tacloban. “They need to bring in shiploads of food.”

Mr Aquino, facing one of the biggest challenges of his three-year rule, said the government was focusing relief and assistance efforts on Samar and Leyte provinces, which acted as “funnels for the storm surges”.

The declaration of a state of national calamity should quicken rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts.

It will also allow the government to use state funds for relief and rehabilitation and control prices. Mr Aquino said the government had set aside 18.7 billion pesos (Dh1.6bn) for rehabilitation.

The official death toll is likely to climb rapidly once rescuers reach remote parts of the coast, such as Guiuan, a town in eastern Samar province with a population of 40,000 that was largely destroyed.

About 400 people were confirmed dead in Samar province, according to provincial governor Sharee Ann Tan, and about 2,000 people were missing in Basey, a seaside town across a bay from Tacloban that was levelled by the storm.

Baco, a city of 35,000 in Oriental Mindoro province, was 80 per cent under water, the UN said.

* Reuters and Associated Press