Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Typhoon rescuers face aid obstacles

Rescue workers face a daunting task in the typhoon-battered islands of the Philippines

Rescue workers have warned of difficulties in reaching survivors after Typhoon Haiyan struck the eastern Philippine coast, as the official death toll neared 1,800.

The day after the typhoon struck, a team of 15 doctors and logistics experts was ready to fly to the worst-hit city to help. Five days into what could be the country's deadliest disaster, they were still waiting to leave.

A team from Medecins Sans Frontieres, complete with medical supplies, arrived on Cebu Island on Saturday looking for a flight to Tacloban, but had not yet left. A spokesman said it was "difficult to tell" when they would be able to leave.

"We are in contact with the authorities, but the (Tacloban) airport is only for the Philippines military use," said Lee Pik Kwan.

Meanwhile, thousands of people hoping for rescue camped at Tacloban Airport and ran on to the tarmac when planes came in, surging past a broken iron fence and a few soldiers and police trying to control them. Only a few hundred made it aboard.

"We need help. Nothing is happening," said Aristone Balute, an 81-year-old who did not get on a flight out of the city. "We haven't eaten since yesterday afternoon."

An Associated Press reporter drove through the town for around four miles, seeing more than 40 bodies. He saw no evidence of any organised delivery of food, water or medical supplies, though piles of aid have begun to arrive at the airport. Some people were lining up to get water from a hose, presumably from the city supply.

"There is a huge amount that we need to do. We have not been able to get into the remote communities," UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said in Manila. "Even in Tacloban, because of the debris and the difficulties with logistics and so on, we have not been able to get in the level of supply that we would want to. We are going to do as much as we can to bring in more."

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said relief goods were getting into the city, and the supply should increase in coming days now that the airport and a bridge to the island were open.

"We are not going to leave one person behind - one living person behind," he said. "We will help, no matter how difficult, no matter how inaccessible."

Doctors in Tacloban said they were desperate for medicine. Beside the ruined airport tower, at a small makeshift clinic with shattered windows, army and air force medics said they had treated around 1,000 people for cuts, bruises, lacerations and deep wounds.

"It's overwhelming," said Air Force Capt. Antonio Tamayo. "We need more medicine. We cannot give anti-tetanus vaccine shots because we have none."

The longer survivors go without access to clean water, food, shelter and medical help, the greater chance of disease breaking out and people dying as a result of wounds sustained in the storm.

The official death toll from the disaster rose to 1,774 on Tuesday, though authorities have said they expect that to rise markedly. They fear estimates of 10,000 dead are accurate and might be low. More than 9 million people have been affected across a large swath of the country, many of them made homeless.

Tacloban, a city of about 220,000 people on Leyte island, bore the full force of the winds and the tsunami-like storm surges. Most of the city is in ruins, a tangled mess of destroyed houses, cars and trees. Malls, garages and shops have all been stripped of food and water by hungry residents.

The loss of life appears to be concentrated in Tacloban and surrounding areas, including a portion of Samar island that is separated from Leyte island by a strait. It is possible that other areas are devastated, with survivors unable to get through the region's crippled communications and transportation systems.

Most Tacloban residents spent the night under pouring rain wherever they could - in the ruins of destroyed houses, in the open along roadsides and shredded trees. Some slept under tents brought in by the government or relief groups.

"There is no help coming in. They know this is a tragedy. They know our needs are urgent. Where is the shelter?" said Aristone Balute's granddaughter, Mylene, who was also at the airport. "We are confused. We don't know who is in charge."

Damaged roads and other infrastructure are complicating the relief efforts. Government officials and police and army officers are in many cases among the victims themselves, hampering coordination.

At Matnog, the port for ferries leaving to another hard-hit island, Samar, dozens of trucks piled high with aid were waiting to cross. In the capital, Manila, soldiers tossed pallets of water, medical supplies and foods into C-130 planes bound for the disaster area.

The United Nations said it had released 25 million US dollars (£15.8m) in emergency funds to pay for emergency shelter materials and household items, and for assistance with the provision of emergency health services, safe water supplies and sanitation facilities. It is launching an appeal for more aid.

The aircraft carrier USS George Washington is headed toward the region with massive amounts of water and food, but the Pentagon said it will not arrive until Thursday. The US also said it is providing 20 million dollars (£12.6m) in immediate aid.

Aid totalling tens of millions of dollars has been pledged by many other countries, including Japan, Australia and Britain, which is sending a Royal Navy vessel with aid.

AP

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