Desperate survivors seek to flee typhoon zone
12 November 2013, 10:10
Tacloban - Thousands of typhoon survivors swarmed the airport on Tuesday seeking a flight out, but only a few hundred made it, leaving behind a shattered, rain-lashed city short of food and water and littered with countless bodies.
Four days after Typhoon Haiyan struck the eastern Philippines, assistance is only just beginning to arrive. Authorities estimated the storm killed 10 000 or more across a vast swath of the country, and displaced around 660 000 others.
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 United Nations said it had had released $25m in emergency funds and was launching an emergency appeal for money.
Just after dawn on Tuesday, two Philippine Air Force C-130s arrived at its destroyed airport along with several commercial and private flights. More than 3 000 people who camped out at the building surged onto the tarmac past a broken iron fence to get on the aircraft. Just a dozen soldiers and several police held them back.
Mothers raised their babies high above their heads in the rain, in hopes of being prioritised. One woman in her 30s lay on a stretcher, shaking uncontrollably. Only a small number managed to board.
"I was pleading with the soldiers. I was kneeling and begging because I have diabetes," said Helen Cordial, whose house was destroyed in the storm. "Do they want me to die in this airport? They are stone hearted."
Most 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.
Local doctors said they were desperate for medicines. 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 since the typhoon for cuts, bruises, lacerations, 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."
International aid groups and militaries are rushing assistance to the region, but little has arrived. Government officials and police and army officers have all been caught up in the disaster themselves, hampering co-ordination.
The USS George Washington aircraft carrier was expected to arrive off the coast in about two days, according to the Pentagon. A similar sized US ship, and its fleet of helicopters capable of dropping tons of water daily and evacuating wounded, was credited with saving scores of lives after the 2004 Asian tsunami.
The United Nations said in a statement that the $25m would be used 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.
"We have deployed specialist teams, vital logistics support and dispatched critical supplies but we have to do more and faster," said UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who was flying to the country.
At a small naval base, eight swollen corpses including that of a baby were submerged in water brought in by the storm. Officers had yet to move them, saying they had no body bags or electricity to preserve them.
The official death remained at 942. However, with shattered communications and transportation links, the final count was likely days away, and presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said "we pray" it does not surpass 10 000.
"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," US Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy said after taking a helicopter flight over Tacloban on Monday. He spoke on the tarmac at the airport, where two Marine C-130 cargo planes were parked, engines running, and unloading supplies.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III declared a "state of national calamity," allowing the central government to release emergency funds quicker and impose price controls on staple goods. He said the two worst-hit provinces, Leyte and Samar, had witnessed "massive destruction and loss of life" but that elsewhere casualties were low.