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Tri-State Area Helping With Relief Efforts As Typhoon-Hit Victims Plead For Aid

Official Death Toll In Philippines From Typhoon Haiyan Hits 942

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Residents and groups from around the Tri-State area are organizing relief efforts as stunned survivors of one of the most powerful typhoons ever to make landfall pleaded for food and medicine.

The Philippine military said Monday it has confirmed 942 people have died in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.

The U.S. military has sent food, water, generators and a contingent of Marines to the devastated city of Tacloban. It’s the first outside help in what will grow into a major international relief mission. A U.S. aircraft carrier and several Navy ships are expected to reach the region by the middle of this week.

Secretary of State John Kerry says he told the Philippine foreign minister the U.S. is fully committed to providing all necessary assistance to help them recover.

EXTRA: Ways You Can Help Relief Efforts | PHOTOS: Typhoon Haiyan

The United Nations said it was sending supplies, but access to the worst-hit areas was a challenge.

“Reaching the worst affected areas is very difficult, with limited access due to the damage caused by the typhoon to infrastructure and communications,” said UNICEF Philippines Representative Tomoo Hozumi.

On Long Island, Nassau County’s Office of Emergency Management is shipping 40 pallets of ready-to-eat meals and local Filipino agencies are collecting a variety of supplies to send to the devastated area.

The Tanglaw Filipino-American Society of Long Island has started a Facebook page for the typhoon relief effort. The group is also gathering food, medicine and other supplies to send to the Philippines.

“The pictures there, videos, it’s getting worse,” Robert Zarate, president of Tanglaw, told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera. “All of us are deeply saddened by this horrific situation.”

Officials estimate 15,000 to 20,000 Filipino-Americans live on Long Island.

In Connecticut, Save the Children in Westport says its warehouses in Hanoi and Da Nang are stocked with 6,000 household, hygiene and education kits ready to be distributed.

AmeriCares in Stamford says it has representatives in the Philippines assessing what needs to be done. Shipments are being made to provide medical help, such as antibiotics, pain relief and other aid for 20,000 people.

In New York City, hundreds took part in a charity run in Central Park over the weekend that was originally set up to help victims of last month’s earthquake in the Philippines. The funds will now also help typhoon survivors.

“It’s so heartbreaking to see all of those people who lost their lives, families, houses. We want to help,” said Persephone Vargas of Wayne, N.J. “This is our way of helping.”

Organizers said the event raised more than $100,000.

Tricia Santos of Jamaica Estates, Queens, told CBS 2′s Hazel Sanchez that her family home just outside Tacloban was destroyed. Only the bathroom — where her cousin hid — was left standing.

“We still haven’t heard from the rest of our family members, and then we found out that three of my cousins died,” she said. “They drowned in the water.”

Santos’ relatives sent photos of their debris-filled living room, collapsed roof and neighborhood-turned-shanty town.

Death Toll Expected To Rise

Authorities said at least 9.7 million people in 41 provinces were affected by Friday’s disaster and at least 23,000 houses had been damaged or destroyed.

Some officials estimate that 10,000 or more people were killed by Haiyan, washed away by the churning waters that poured in from the Pacific or buried under mountains of trash and rubble.

But it may be days or even weeks before the full extent of the destruction is known.

People who lined up for food Monday wrote messages on the street and put out their desperate message that more help is needed.

“A lot of people are dead. Our friends are dead. Some of our family members are dead. So, it’s really devastating,” a Tacloban resident said.

“We want water and medicine for the injured. We don’t need pity, we just need your help,” another local woman said.

But local officials said the road to recovery will take some time.

“Our problem is getting more relief goods in because the roads are not yet accessible,” Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez said Monday.

The disaster has shattered transportation and communication links, as well as local governance structures, making it hard to come up with a definite tally.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said “we pray” that the death toll is less than 10,000.

Large areas along the coast had been transformed into twisted piles of debris, blocking roads and trapping decomposing bodies underneath. Ships were tossed inland, cars and trucks swept out to sea and bridges and ports washed away.

“In some cases the devastation has been total,” said Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras.

Tacloban resembled a garbage dump from the air, punctuated only by a few concrete buildings that remained standing.

“A 15 to 25 foot wave came across entire villages and so everything’s wiped out,” U.S. Marines Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy said.

Florida photographer Jim Edds braved the deadly conditions in Tacloban during the typhoon and briefly took shelter in a swimming pool.

“It was complete chaos. Just a mass of people trying to get out of there for security reasons and because there’s no food and no water,” Edds said.

Many here in the U.S. are still waiting to hear from relatives.

“I Facebooked my brother, but I haven’t gotten a reply,” Jersey City resident Christine Villamayor said. “I don’t know if it’s just the signal. I’m worried.”

Authorities said they had evacuated some 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon, but some of the evacuation centers proved to be no protection against the wind and rising water.

The Philippine National Red Cross, responsible for warning the region and giving advice, said people were not prepared for a storm surge.

“Imagine America, which was prepared and very rich, still had a lot of challenges at the time of Hurricane Katrina, but what we had was three times more than what they received,” said Gwendolyn Pang, the group’s executive director.

‘State Of National Calamity’

Residents have stripped malls, shops and homes of food, water and consumer goods. Officials said some of the looting smacked of desperation but in other cases items taken included TVs, refrigerators, Christmas trees and a treadmill.

Gen. Kennedy said Philippine forces were handling security well, and that his forces were “looking at how to open up roads and land planes and helicopters. We got shelter coming in. (The U.S. Agency for International Development) is bringing in water and supplies.”

Those caught in the storm were worried that aid would not arrive soon enough.

“We’re afraid that it’s going to get dangerous in town because relief goods are trickling in very slow,” said Bobbie Womack, an American missionary and longtime Tacloban resident from Athens, Tennessee. “I know it’s a massive, massive undertaking to try to feed a town of over 150,000 people. They need to bring in shiploads of food.”

The country’s president has declared a “state of national calamity,” allowing the central government to release emergency funds faster 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.

Cursed By Geography

Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday and quickly barreled across its central islands, packing winds of 147 mph that gusted to 170 mph and a storm surge of 20 feet.

The typhoon’s reach was so massive that the American Red Cross shows had it hit here, it would have covered nearly the entire continental United States.

The storm’s sustained winds weakened as the typhoon made landfall in northern Vietnam early Monday after crossing the South China Sea, according to the Hong Kong meteorological observatory.

Authorities there evacuated hundreds of thousands of people, but there were no reports of significant damage or injuries.

It was downgraded to a tropical storm as it entered southern China later Monday, and weather officials forecast torrential rain in the area until Tuesday.

No major damage was reported in China, though Xinhua News Agency said heavy winds tore a cargo ship from its moorings in southern China and drove it out to sea, killing at least two crew members.

The Philippines, which sees about 20 typhoons per year, is cursed by its geography. On a string of some 7,000 islands, there are only so many places to evacuate people to, unless they can be flown or ferried to the mainland.

The impoverished and densely populated nation of 96 million people in the northwestern Pacific, is right in the path of the world’s No. 1 typhoon generator, according to meteorologists. The archipelago’s exposed eastern seaboard often bears the brunt.

The country’s deadliest disaster on record was the 1976 magnitude-7.9 earthquake that triggered a tsunami in the Moro Gulf in the southern Philippines, killing 5,791 people.

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