Typhoon survivors in Philippines struggle for aid

TACLOBAN, Philippines – Rescuers faced blocked roads and damaged airports today as they raced to deliver desperately needed tents, food and medicines to the typhoon-devastated eastern Philippines where thousands are believed dead.

Three days after the Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the region, the full scale of the disaster – the biggest faced by the Philippines – was only now becoming apparent.

The winds and the sea waves whipped up were so strong that they washed hulking ships inland, which now stood incongruously amid debris of buildings, trees, road signs and people’s belongings.

Authorities estimated that up to 10,000 people may have died. But the government, stunned by the scale of the disaster, has not given an official death toll yet. Still, officials who have surveyed the area say there is little doubt that the death toll will be that high or even higher.

In Tacloban city, the capital of Leyte province, corpses hung from trees and were scattered on sidewalks. Many were buried in flattened buildings. The entire town appeared to have been obliterated. From the air the entire city looked like a giant garbage dump punctuated by a few concrete buildings that still stood.

Survivors wandered through the remains of their flattened wooden homes looking to salvage belongings or to search for loved ones.

Very little assistance had reached the city, residents reported. Some took food, water and consumer goods from abandoned shops, malls and homes.

“This area has been totally ravaged,” said Sebastien Sujobert, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tacloban. “Many lives were lost, a huge number of people are missing, and basic services such as drinking water and electricity have been cut off,” he said.

He said both the Philippine Red Cross and the ICRC offices in Tacloban had been damaged, forcing staff to relocate temporarily.

Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday and quickly barreled across its central islands, packing winds of 147 mph that gusted to 170 mph, and a storm surge of 20 feet.

It inflicted serious damage to at least six of the archipelago’s more than 7,000 islands, with Leyte, Samar and the northern part of Cebu appearing to bear the brunt of the storm. About 4 million people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.

Video from Eastern Samar province’s Guiuan township – the first area where the typhoon made landfall – also showed a trail of devastation. Many houses were flattened and roads were strewn with debris and uprooted trees.

“I have no house, I have no clothes. I don’t know how I will restart my life, I am so confused,” an unidentified woman said, crying.”

The United Nations said it was sending supplies but access to the worst hit areas was a challenge.

Even in a nation regularly beset by earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical storms, Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the deadliest natural disaster on record. Its sustained winds weakened to 74 mph as the typhoon made landfall in northern Vietnam early today after crossing the South China Sea. Authorities there evacuated hundreds of thousands of people, but there were no reports of significant damage or injuries.

Hardest hit in the Philippines was Leyte Island, but reports also trickled in indicating deaths elsewhere.

On Samar Island, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 were missing, with some towns yet to be reached by rescuers. He pleaded for food and water, adding that power was out and there was no cellphone signal, making communication possible only by radio.

Reports from other affected islands indicated dozens, perhaps hundreds more deaths.

With communications still knocked out in many areas, it was unclear how authorities were arriving at their estimates of the number of people killed, and it will be days before the full extent of the storm is known.

With no aid reaching, people were seeing helping themselves to food and supplies from unattended shops and stores.

President Benigno Aquino III said he was considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in Tacloban.

The casualties occurred even though the government had evacuated nearly 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon.

Challenged to respond to a disaster of such magnitude, the Philippine government also accepted help from abroad.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed the Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and fly in emergency supplies.

The Philippines is annually buffeted by tropical storms and typhoons, called hurricanes and cyclones elsewhere.