Philippine typhoon survivors camp out as aid bottlenecked

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People wait to board a rescue flight at Tacloban Airport on Nov. 14, 2013. Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Medical teams, aid workers and soldiers crammed onto flights to Tacloban city in the central Philippines as survivors told of desperation over the trickle of supplies to the area a week after Typhoon Haiyan caused massive destruction.

Philippine Air Force planes were making round trips from neighboring Cebu to the area that bore the brunt of Haiyan, a super typhoon that the United Nations said killed at least 4,460 people. The planes ferried in aid workers and supplies, and brought out survivors, mostly the elderly and injured.

Tens of thousands of people are living in the open or in damaged buildings, exposed to rain and wind, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amossaid yesterday. "Medical facilities for those who were injured, food, clean water and basic sanitation are urgently required," she said in Manila. "The situation is dismal. People are extremely vulnerable and desperate for help."

Field hospitals were being set up in Tacloban. Two teams operating water purifiers will be sent to the city, Luigi D'Angelo, leader of the European Civil Protection Team, said in Cebu yesterday. The U.S. aircraft carrier George Washington and accompanying vessels arrived to help with the delivery of supplies and search and rescue, President Barack Obamasaid at a White House briefing yesterday.

Bottlenecks

As aid agencies called for donations and countries sent supplies and teams, relief efforts were still being hampered by roads washed away or blocked by debris, a lack of vehicles to transport aid from Tacloban airport and gridlock at Cebu airstrips.

The storm affected 11.8 million people, with 921,200 displaced, according to the latest situation report from the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 243,600 houses were destroyed, it said.

The government is doing "everything it can" to secure supplies and transport aid, President Benigno Aquino told volunteers last yesterday at a relief repacking station in Manila. "We need to speed things up," Aquino said. "If this drags, people there could grow desperate."

The delivery of aid was hampered by a lack of communications and electricity, he said. Aquino plans to travel to the disaster area again tomorrow.

Economic impact

Philippine economic growth this quarter may slow to a range of 4.1 percent to 5.9 percent as a result of the storm, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said in a mobile-phone message yesterday.

An estimated 0.3 to 0.8 percentage point impact of Haiyan may cap gross domestic product expansion this year at 6.5 percent to 7 percent, still within the government's target, Balisacan said.

The $200 billion Southeast Asian economy expanded 7.5 percent in the three months ended June. The Philippines has grown above 7 percent in the past four quarters.

The benchmark Manila stock index rose 0.1 percent yesterday. The peso climbed 0.4 percent against the U.S. dollar to 43.56.

Survivors arriving by plane in Cebu from Tacloban yesterday said they weren't warned of the seriousness of the typhoon. "Even our mayor didn't understand what a storm surge is," said Michael Angelo Tan, 29, who saw 20 people dead in the city's convention center. "They were trapped there by the water. There was a stampede," he said.

"˜Not Prepared'

"The government was not prepared," said Rina Pontejos, a 29-year-old cashier. "Village guards at least should have given warnings and asked people to evacuate. What were they there for?" Tacloban has a population of about 221,000.

Melanie Valdestamon, a 29-year-old nurse, said her house was hit by knee-deep water even though it was some distance from the shore. "We tied big water bottles to a mattress to build a raft for our baby so he would survive."

The Red Cross is sending 1,500 more body bags to Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province, to add to the 500 it already dispatched, Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon told reporters in Cebu. "We're picking the bodies up, managing the dead," Gordon said.

Relief efforts needed to be better coordinated, he said. "I'm being careful, I don't want my people to get hurt. Somebody must be in charge there."

About 2,000 soldiers and policemen are in the Eastern Visayas region following looting incidents in Leyte, Office of Civil Defense Administrator Eduardo del Rosario said in Manila yesterday. Eastern Visayas covers Leyte and Samar islands. "The peace and order situation on the ground is improving," del Rosario said.

Rice Sack

Soldier Carlo Octa, 24, whose house in Burauen town in Leyte was destroyed, said he paid 2,800 pesos for a sack of rice and some dried fish in a market 41 kilometers (25.5 miles) from his home. A 50-kilogram sack of rice sells for 1,800 pesos in Manila. "There are relief goods stocked in the town proper," he said by phone. "They have yet to be distributed."

Survivors who arrived in Cebu from Guiuan in East Samar province said some residents ignored advice to evacuate.

Elaine Pading, 42, scheduled a live band performance in her karaoke restaurant on the night of the storm, thinking the winds wouldn't be that strong. The roof of her restaurant was ripped off and windows smashed. "We thought we wouldn't live until the next morning," she said.

Jason Gagala, 30, and his wife hid their 10-month old son in a cabinet in their home during the storm. "The people of Guiuan did not prepare," he said. Police in patrol cars and speaking on megaphones toured the town beforehand, appealing for residents to leave.

Aquino criticized

Aquino must better mobilize the military and police, said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila.

"He is running out of time and every minute counts," Casiple said by phone yesterday. "When he declared a state of national calamity, people expected him to take charge," he added. "This event will define his presidency."

"There have been criticisms, which we accept," Communications Secretary Herminio Colomasaid yesterday in Manila. "We don't deny that there have been shortcomings, but these were due to severe constraints."

Electricity, gasoline

Electricity in areas hardest hit by the storm may be back on by Dec. 24, Energy SecretaryCarlos Jericho Petilla said today in Manila. To prevent hoarding, the government has limited oil purchases to two liters per motorcycle and 500 pesos worth for cars each day, he said in an interview. "Some gas stations don't want to open because of fear they may be mobbed."

Japan, which will donate $10 million and has medical teams on the ground, will send 1,000 Self-Defense Force troops, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Nov. 13 on his Facebook page. Japan's Defense Ministry said it is preparing to send in three vessels, plus helicopters and planes.

China will donate 10 million yuan ($1.64 million) in relief materials, the state-run Global Times newspaper said, after the government earlier offered $100,000.

The death toll would make Haiyan one of the deadliest storms in the country's history. In late 2012 Typhoon Bopha killed 1,067, while the death toll from Thelma reached 5,080 in late 1991.

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