Philippines starts burying the dead
14 November 2013, 21:58
Tacloban City - Hundreds of bodies were buried on Thursday in the typhoon-devastated eastern Philippines, as efforts to clear decaying bodies - some lying in the streets - picked up and aid began to reach victims in the worst-hit regions.
Workers quietly shovelled soil over the 300 bodies lined up in a mass grave in a cemetery at the foot of a hill outside Tacloban City, the capital of Leyte province.
Most of the bodies were in black body bags. Others were just wrapped in cloth. They were brought in by trucks coming from all around the city, flattened by Typhoon Haiyan's 300km/h winds.
"I hope this is the last time I see something like this," said Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez, who briefly inspected the burials, which were conducted without a ceremony.
"This is horrible," he added. "There are still bodies on the road and we've been receiving requests from communities to collect their dead. They'd tell us they just have five or 10, but when we arrive there, it's 40 bodies."
At least 2 357 people were confirmed dead after Haiyan ripped through the Philippines on 8 November, wiping out cities and towns, the national disaster relief agency said.
Nearly 4 000 people were injured in Haiyan's onslaught, while at least 77 were reported missing, the national disaster relief agency said. Damage to infrastructure and agriculture was estimated at over 4 billion pesos.
Rescue teams worked double time to dig through thick mud and debris in search of bodies in Tacloban, where some of the dead that had been recovered were left along the streets, waiting for body bags.
"We are moving as fast as we can, because the people are really complaining to us," said Alfredo Gimao, a rescue worker from Manila.
Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said body retrieval had been hampered by the widespread destruction.
"We do have a problem because of the debris," he told reporters. "We started retrieving bodies two days after the typhoon... We had to prioritise the living rather than the dead," he explained.
Many survivors have been complaining about the foul odour and expressed fears that it could make them sick, despite assurances from health officials that the dead bodies were unlikely to cause widespread disease.
"We want to leave, because we are afraid that people will start getting sick," said Omar Fumar, a 39-year-old security guard who was camped out at Tacloban's airport with 10 other relatives. "It is so dirty here now and so many dead bodies have not been cleared."
Fumar, a father of three, said he was most worried about diseases that could spread from the lack of potable water and sanitation.
"I don't want my kids to get sick, they've already been through a lot," he added.
More than 11 million people were affected by Haiyan's destruction, including nearly 600 000 displaced needing food, water and shelter, according to the United Nations' humanitarian affairs office.
Soldiers were distributing water and rice from trucks in Tacloban City, where hungry survivors had looted supermarkets, shopping malls and drugstores.
Eduardo Del Rosario, head of the national disaster relief agency, said more relief workers and supplies were en route to the affected areas, not just Tacloban City, amid complaints from other areas that they have been ignored.
"We have a concrete system for relief operations, but we weren't prepared for this magnitude," he told reporters in Manila. "This is very big."
Del Rosario said the air force had started airdropping relief goods to remote areas.
The arrival of the USS George Washington in Leyte Gulf was expected to provide a boost to rescue operations.
"One of the best capabilities the Strike Group brings is our 21 helicopters," said Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery, commander of the George Washington Strike Group. "These helicopters represent a good deal of lift to move emergency supplies around," he added in a statement.
Montgomery said the cargo ship USNS Charles Drew also transported water and food to Tacloban City in Leyte province and nearby Samar province. Britain is sending its only aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious, to relieve the already deployed HMS Daring, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday.
The Daring is expected to arrive on Saturday, but does not have the same capabilities as the Illustrious, which has seven helicopters and is able to process fresh water, Cameron said.
The Illustrious is due to arrive on 24 November or 25 November. Britain has also donated $32m to relief efforts, Cameron said.