Relief effort picks up in the Philippines as typhoon death toll rises

Saturday 16 November 2013 08.33
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Bodies are lined up in body bags on the roadside as members of the fire department retrieve bodies from the rubble in Tacloban City
Bodies are lined up in body bags on the roadside as members of the fire department retrieve bodies from the rubble in Tacloban City
People wait for flights out of Tacloban Airport in Leyte
People wait for flights out of Tacloban Airport in Leyte
An entire neighbourhood of Tacloban is destroyed in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan
An entire neighbourhood of Tacloban is destroyed in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan

Hundreds of international aid workers have set up makeshift hospitals and trucked in supplies to the Philippines, one week after a powerful typhoon struck.

After long delays, helicopters from a US aircraft carrier ferried medicine and water to remote areas levelled by Typhoon Haiyan.

However, the aid effort is still patchy, bodies still lay uncollected on the streets and thousands are trying to evacuate stricken communities.

The death toll from one of the world's most powerful typhoons has surged to almost 4,000, but there is still confusion about the exact toll.

"There's a change in the pace of the response. I can see the international support coming here," said Captain Victoriano Sambale, a Philippine military doctor.

The nuclear-powered USS George Washington aircraft carrier and accompanying ships arrived off eastern Samar province yesterday, carrying 5,000 crew and more than 80 aircraft.

Acting US Ambassador Brian Goldbeck, the charge d'affaires at the US Embassy in Manila, said the US had moved 174,000kg of emergency supplies into affected areas and evacuated nearly 3,000 people.

A Norwegian merchant navy training vessel today arrived at Tacloban.

Tacloban is one of the worst hit areas, with goods from the UN World Food Programme, including 40 tonnes of rice, medical equipment and 6,200 body bags.

Boxes of aid were being unloaded at Tacloban's badly damaged airport, where more than 1,000 people queued for hours hoping to evacuate.

Hundreds of people lined up for food and drink at an evacuee processing centre at Mactan Air Base in Cebu, the country's second-biggest city.

More than 920,000 people have been displaced, the UN said. But many areas still have not received aid.

President under pressure over response

President Benigno Aquino has been criticised for the slow pace of aid distribution and unclear estimates of casualties.

He has previously said lives lost would be about 2,000 or 2,500.

Official confirmed deaths nationwide rose by more than 1,200 overnight to 3,621 today.

Adding to the confusion, the United Nations, citing government figures, put the latest overall death toll at 4,460, but a spokeswoman said it was now reviewing the figure.

Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez said some people may have been swept out to sea and their bodies lost after a tsunami-like wall of seawater slammed into coastal areas.

One neighbourhood with a population of between 10,000 and 12,000 was now deserted, he said.

Massive logistical problems remain in the relief operation.

Injured survivors are still waiting in long lines under searing sun for treatment.

Local authorities have reported shortages of body bags, fuel and staff to collect the dead.

"Bodies are still lying on the roads. But now at least they're in sections with department of health body bags," Ian Norton, chief of a team of Australian aid workers, told Reuters.

Stunned survivors in Tacloban said the toll could be many thousands.

The preliminary number of missing as of today, according to the Red Cross, rose to 25,000 from 22,000 a day earlier.

That could include people who have since been located, it said.

If you would like to donate to the relief fund - details of charities providing aid are here