TACLOBAN, Philippines (CBSNewYork/AP) — Desperately needed food, water and medical aid were only trickling into the city that took the worst blow from Typhoon Haiyan, while thousands of victims jammed the damaged airport Tuesday, seeking to be evacuated.
Five days after what could be the Philippines’ deadliest disaster, aid was on its way. Pallets of supplies and teams of doctors were waiting to get into Tacloban, but the challenges of delivering the assistance means few in the stricken city had received help.
“There is a huge amount that we need to do. We have not been able to get into the remote communities,” U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said in Manila. “Even in Tacloban, because of the debris and the difficulties with logistics and so on, we have not been able to get in the level of supply that we would want to. We are going to do as much as we can to bring in more.”
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said relief goods were getting into the city, and the supply should increase now that the airport and a bridge to the island were open.
“We are not going to leave one person behind — one living person behind,” he said. “We will help, no matter how difficult, no matter how inaccessible.”
At the city’s airport, people crowded the destroyed terminal building and shouted at soldiers. A soldier yelled back that cargo planes were coming and that people would be flown out.
“We are hungry,” one man said.
“Please, please help us,” said another.
The longer survivors go without access to clean water, food, shelter and medical help, the greater chance of disease breaking out and people dying as a result of wounds sustained in the storm, officials said.
The official death toll from the disaster rose to 1,774 on Tuesday, though authorities have said they expect that to rise markedly. They fear estimates of 10,000 dead are accurate and might be low.
More than nine million people have been affected across a large swath of the country, many of them made homeless.
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.
“People are just scavenging in the streets. People are asking food from relatives, friends. The devastation is too much — the malls, the grocery stores have all been looted,” Joselito Caimoy, a 42-year-old truck driver, said. “They’re empty. People are hungry. And they (the authorities) cannot control the people.”
The loss of life appears to be concentrated in Tacloban and surrounding areas, including a portion of Samar island that is separated from Leyte island by a strait. It is possible that other devastated areas are so isolated they have not yet been reached.
The Philippine air force has been sending three C-130s back and forth to Tacloban from dawn to dusk, and had delivered 400,000 pounds of relief supplies by Tuesday, Lt. Col. Marciano Jesus Guevara said.
A lack of electricity in Tacloban means planes can’t land there at night.
Guevara said the C-130s have transported nearly 3,000 civilians out of the disaster zone and that the biggest problem in Tacloban is a lack of clean drinking water.
“Water is life,” he said. “If you have water with no food, you’ll survive.”
There is also growing concern about recovering corpses that are still rotting throughout the disaster zone.
“It really breaks your heart when you see them,” said Maj. Gen. Romeo Poquiz, commander of the 2nd Air Division.
Damaged roads and other infrastructure are complicating the relief efforts. Government officials and police and army officers are in many cases among the victims themselves, hampering coordination. The typhoon destroyed military buildings that housed 1,000 soldiers in Leyte province.
There were other distractions, including a jailbreak in Tacloban. Army Brig. Gen. Virgilio Espineli, the deputy regional military commander, said Tuesday he wasn’t sure how many of the 600 inmates fled.
The United Nations said it had released $25 million in emergency funds 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. It’s launching an appeal for more aid.
The aircraft carrier USS George Washington is headed toward the region with massive amounts of water and food, but the Pentagon said it won’t arrive until Thursday. The U.S. also said it is providing $20 million in immediate aid.
Aid totaling tens of millions of dollars has been pledged by many other countries, including Japan, Australia and Britain, which is sending a Royal Navy vessel with aid.
Local Relief Efforts
There have also been mounting relief efforts here at home.
In Jersey City, Mayor Steven Fulop and City Council President Rolando Lavarro Jr. will host a fundraiser on Thursday night at Porto Lounge to raise money for typhoon victims.
A representative from the American Red Cross will collect checks that will be used for the relief effort.
Donation boxes are going up at businesses throughout Jersey City’s Filipino neighborhood, which is home to about 16,000 of New Jersey’s estimated 100,000 Filipinos.
Members of the Filipino community in Jersey City said it’s been hard getting information about their family back home.
Renato Empestan said his family is in the storm zone.
“As of now, I could not talk to them for almost four days now,” he told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell. “It’s hard, it’s very, very hard.”
Gina Evangelista’s brother lives in an area recently hit by an earthquake.
“There is nothing left of the house,” she told Haskell. “It’s devastating to watch.”
“My heart bled,” Laura Bizon told Haskell. “I’m collecting some old clothes I’ll be sending to developments.”
Others say there is not much more they can do but pray.
Another local group, Heart 9/11, is hoping to send a team of volunteers to the Philippines by the end of the week.
The group, made up of retired first responders and union trade members who worked at the World Trade Center, responds to disaster-stricken communities to help residents rebuild.
“You create a base and from that base you begin to make roads, you need to establish communications,” founder Bill Keegan told Haskell.
Keegen said he has volunteers ready to leave as soon as they can establish a safe base camp.
For more information about Heart 9/11, visit www.heart911.org.
At a warehouse in Long Island City, Queens, workers hurriedly prepared a multi-million-dollar shipment of supplies gathered by local relief agencies.
“We have over $3 million worth of supplies right here — essential medicines, wound care, anything that would treat water-borne illnesses,” Adrian Kerrigan of the Catholic Medical Mission Board told CBS 2.
On Long Island, Filipinos are organizing clothing drives and sending cash by wire transfer. A popular grocery store in Hicksville waives all fees for donations.
Relief organizations say cash donations are the quickest way to help.
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