x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Villagers mob aid choppers as Philippine relief effort spreads

US military helicopters drop desperately needed aid into remote areas of the typhoon-ravaged central Philippines, as survivors flock to ruined churches to pray for their uncertain future.

Typhoon survivors run to board a US military evacuation flight from Tacloban airport. Mark Ralston / AFP
Typhoon survivors run to board a US military evacuation flight from Tacloban airport. Mark Ralston / AFP

CABUNGAAN, Philippines// Mobbed by hungry villagers, US military helicopters dropped desperately needed aid into remote areas of the typhoon-ravaged central Philippines, as survivors of the disaster flocked to ruined churches to pray for their uncertain future.

While aid packages have begun to reach more remote areas, much of it carried by helicopters brought by the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, the United Nations said people were still going hungry in some mountainous provinces.

The official death toll from Typhoon Haiyan has reached 3,974, with almost 2,000 missing, and the estimate of the number of people displaced has been raised to 4 million, up from 900,000 last week.

“I remain concerned about the health and well-being of the millions of men, women and children who are still in desperate need,” the UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said.

The risk of skin and respiratory diseases and diarrhoea was very high, with hospital and health centres badly damaged.

“It’s raining a lot so everything is wet. The quality of the water is not sufficient,” said Jean Pletinck, who is heading relief efforts by Docotors Without Borders.

The Philippines president Benigno Aquino, criticised by some for the sometimes chaotic response, visited affected areas yesterday and sought to deflect blame for the problems on to local authorities whose storm preparations he said had fallen short.

Mr Aquino said he would stay in the affected region until he was “satisfied” with the relief operations.

In Cabungaan, a village in the interior of Leyte province’s Tanauan district – where as many as 1,200 died – the arrival of a US Seahawk helicopter yesterday was the first outside help since Haiyan made landfall.

With children in the lead, scores of villagers ran from jury-rigged shanties to greet the helicopter as it settled in a flattened patch of grass. Locals jostled for a view, beaming and yelling “Thank you! Thank you!” as two crew members rushed out aid marked “from the American people”.

The international community has sent or pledged a total of $248 million (Dh911m) to help people affected by Haiyan, said the Philippine foreign ministry.

The United States has about 50 ships and aircraft operating in the area. Japan has sent three ships with trucks and engineering equipment, while Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore have sent C130 planes to help deliver relief supplies.

* Reuters