Rescuers race to Philippines as typhoon death Toll climbs

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Residents walk past destruction along a road in Tacloban, on the eastern island of Leyte in the Philippines, on November 10, 2013 after Super Typhoon Haiyan swept over the country. Photographer: Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images

Rescue workers from Japan to Singapore are rushing to the Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan flattened buildings and unleashed flooding that may have killed as many as 10,000 people, and as a new storm approaches.

Haiyan weakened into a tropical depression as it reached Vietnam yesterday, with no reports of casualties. A tropical depression is threatening Mindanao island in the southern Philippines and may pass through areas hit by Haiyan, prompting the weather bureau to issue the lowest storm warning in its four-level alert system.

Japan and Singapore are among countries sending in relief teams, while the Australian government announced A$10 million ($9.4 million) in assistance. The Philippine government warned the devastation from the typhoon may adversely impact the economy and sent in soldiers to prevent looting as survivors searched for food.

The United Nations said it is stepping up relief operations, with much of the destruction concentrated in and around Tacloban city, the capital of Leyte province. The difficulty in reaching the hardest-hit areas means the number of casualties has yet to be confirmed, said the Red Cross in Geneva, which cited Philippine authorities as saying the death toll may reach 10,000.

Tacloban destruction

"Access remains a key challenge as some areas are still cut off from relief operations," the UN office in Manila said in an e-mailed release yesterday. "Unknown numbers of survivors do not have basic necessities such as food, water and medicines and remain inaccessible for relief operations, as roads, airports and bridges were destroyed or covered in wreckage."

President Benigno Aquino traveled to Tacloban yesterday to view the aftermath of the year's most powerful cyclone. Television images from the city showed bodies on the streets and floating in the sea, homes reduced to rubble, structures with their roofs ripped off and roads blocked by felled trees.

"The United States is already providing significant humanitarian assistance, and we stand ready to further assist the government's relief and recovery efforts," U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

The U.S. Department of Defense will assist in the relief efforts, which will include maritime search and rescue, it said in a statement. The British Embassy in Manila announced an aid package of as much as 414 million pesos ($9.5 million).

Making contact

While the official death toll posted by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council was 255 as of 6 a.m. in Manila, the number is expected to rise as the government gets reports from provinces that have been cut off, Major Rey Balido, a spokesman for the disaster-monitoring agency, said in a text message. Almost 9.7 million Filipinos, or a 10th of the population, were affected by Haiyan, the agency said.

"The trouble is in some western highlands there is no access so nobody can confirm these estimates" on the death toll, David Pierre Maquet, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said by phone from Geneva.

Three hundred fatalities were confirmed on Samar island and 2,000 others were missing, the Associated Press cited Leo Dacaynos of Samar province's disaster office as saying.

Complicating efforts

"It is most important now to look after the survivors; we don't want to expose them to the elements, get sick and add to the casualties," Aquino told reporters in Manila Nov. 9. "It will be a second tragedy if we fail" in post-disaster management, he said.

About 300 soldiers along with armored vehicles were deployed to stop looters, Aquino told reporters at the airport, according to a transcript released by his office.

The government has no plans to declare martial law in storm-hit areas, Aquino spokesman Edwin Lacierda said today in a mobile-phone message. Police and military reinforcements will help "restore peace and order" and ensure the delivery of supplies, Lacierda said.

At 4 a.m. Manila time, tropical depression Zoraida was 950 kilometers (590 miles) southeast of Hinatuan in Surigao del Sur province, with maximum sustained winds of 55 kilometers per hour near the center. It is expected to reach Tagbilaran city in Bohol, a province hit by a magnitude-7.2 earthquake last month, by Wednesday morning.

More than 23,190 homes were damaged and four airports remain shut, the disaster agency said today. Only the runway remains at Tacloban airport, John Andrews of the state aviation authority said Nov. 9.

"˜Massive scale'

The ICRC said 11 trucks loaded with food and other supplies were held up for a few days in Surigao city as sea travel was halted, and are yet to reach Tacloban. "There's an urgent need to speed up the humanitarian response," Graziella Leite Piccolo, deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Manila, said in a statement.

The UN World Food Programme, the largest humanitarian organization in the world, estimates 2.5 million people will require emergency assistance and has mobilized an initial $2 million for its response. "This is destruction on a massive scale," Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, head of the UN Disaster Assessment Coordination Team, said in a statement.

Fading storm

The typhoon changed course late yesterday and headed toward north Vietnam. Evacuations were ordered for 860,000 people from provinces extending from Nghe An in the northern part of the country to Phu Yen in the southern central region.

At 9 a.m. in Vietnam the storm was on the Vietnam-China border, heading for Guangxi in China and set to weaken to a tropical depression, according to a statement posted on the website of Vietnam's National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting. Haiyan passed over several provinces in Vietnam with no casualties reported, the government said in a statement on its website.

Financial markets were trading today in the Philippines and Vietnam. The Philippine peso weakened 0.5 percent, the most in a month, and the nation's benchmark equity index dropped as much as 2.4 percent to the lowest level in five weeks. Vietnam's VN Index (VNINDEX)

Aquino said Nov. 9 the government is prepared to use 23 billion pesos from various agencies and his discretionary fund for relief and rebuilding of towns and provinces.

Economic hit

The Philippines was the nation most affected by natural disasters in 2012, with more than 2,000 deaths, according to the Brussels-based Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.

Haiyan's total economic impact may reach $14 billion, about $2 billion of which will be insured, according to a report by Jonathan Adams, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Industries, citing Kinetic Analysis Corp.

Gross domestic product in areas hit by the typhoon may decline as much as 8 percent next year, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said in a mobile-phone message, citing preliminary estimates. The regions affected account for about 12.5 percent of the nation's output, he said.

High winds swept away about half of the Philippines' sugar cane-growing areas and a third of its rice-producing land, according to Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

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