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Destruction hampers rescue efforts after Haiyan

11 November 2013, 07:39

Tacloban - Rescue workers were struggling to reach ravaged towns and villages in the central Philippines on Monday to deliver aid to survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed an estimated 10 000 people.

The United Nations said an unknown number of survivors had no food, water or medicine. Relief operations were hampered because roads, airports and bridges had been destroyed or were covered in wreckage, it said.

Super typhoon Haiyan destroyed about 70 to 80% of structures in its path as it tore through Leyte province on Friday, said police chief superintendent Elmer Soria.

After weakening, the massive storm headed west towards Vietnam.

Huge waves from one of the strongest storms ever recorded swept away coastal villages and devastated Tacloban, a main city in the region. Some officials likened the destruction to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

"From a helicopter, you can see the extent of devastation. From the shore and moving a kilometre inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami," said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, who was in Tacloban before the typhoon struck the city.

"I don't know how to describe what I saw. It's horrific."

The Philippines government and disaster agency have not confirmed the latest estimate of the number of deaths from the storm, whose sustained winds reached 313km/h with gusts of up to 378km/h.

Soria, quoting local officials, said the estimated death toll so far was 10 000. That could climb once rescuers reach remote villages along the coast.

About 300 people died in neighbouring Samar province, where Haiyan first hit land on Friday as a category 5 typhoon. About  2 000 people are missing, said an official of the provincial disaster agency.

US Marines on way

About 90 US Marines and sailors headed to the Philippines as part of a first wave of promised military assistance for relief efforts, US officials said.

US aid groups also launched a multimillion-dollar relief campaign. One group, World Vision, said a shipment of blankets and plastic tarpaulins would arrive from Germany on Monday as a first step in its plan to help 400 000 people.

An official of World Vision based in Cebu Province said there were early reports that as much as 90% of northern Cebu was destroyed by the storm.

The United Nations children's agency, Unicef, said it was rushing emergency supplies to the Philippines.

"Reaching the worst affected areas is very difficult, with limited access due to the damage caused by the typhoon to infrastructure and communications," Unicef Philippines Representative Tomoo Hozumi said in a statement.

International aid agencies said relief efforts in the Philippines were stretched thin after a 7.2 magnitude quake in central Bohol province last month and displacement caused by a conflict with Muslim rebels in southern Zamboanga province.

Bodies piled up

Most of the storm deaths appeared to have been caused by surging sea water strewn with debris that many said resembled a tsunami. It levelled houses and drowned hundreds of people in one of the worst disasters to hit the typhoon-prone Southeast Asian nation.

Nearly 480 000 people were displaced and 4.5 million "affected" by the typhoon in 36 provinces, the national disaster agency said.

Witnesses and officials described chaotic scenes in Leyte's capital, Tacloban, a coastal city of 220 000 about 580km southeast of Manila which bore the brunt, with hundreds of bodies piled along roads and pinned under wrecked houses.

The city lies in a cove where the seawater narrows, making it susceptible to storm surges.

The city and nearby villages as far as one kilometre from shore were flooded, leaving floating bodies and roads choked with debris from fallen trees, tangled power lines and flattened homes.

Many internet users urged prayers and called for aid for survivors in the largely Roman Catholic nation on social media sites such as Twitter.

Aquino considers martial law

Looters rampaged through several stores in Tacloban, witnesses said, taking whatever they could find. A TV station said ATM machines were broken open.

Mobs attacked trucks loaded with food, tents and water on Tanauan bridge in Leyte, said Philippines Red Cross chair Richard Gordon. "These are mobsters operating out of there."

President Benigno Aquino said the government had deployed 300 soldiers and police to restore order and that he was considering introducing martial law or a state of emergency in Tacloban to ensure security.

"Tonight, a column of armoured vehicles will be arriving in Tacloban to show the government's resolve and to stop this looting," he said.

Aquino has shown exasperation at conflicting reports on damage and deaths and one TV network quoted him as telling the head of the disaster agency that he was running out of patience.

"How can you beat that typhoon?" said defence chief Voltaire Gazmin, when asked whether the government had been ill-prepared.

"It's the strongest on Earth. We've done everything we can, we had lots of preparation. It's a lesson for us."

The UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said aerial surveys showed "significant damage to coastal areas" with heavy ships thrown ashore, houses destroyed and vast tracts of agricultural land "decimated".

The destruction extended well beyond Tacloban.


Officials had yet to make contact with Guiuan, a town of 40 000 that was first hit by the typhoon. Baco, a city of 35 000 people in Oriental Mindoro province, was 80% under water, the UN said.

There were reports of damage across much of the Visayas, a region of eight major islands, including Leyte, Cebu and Samar.

Many tourists were stranded. "Seawater reached the second floor of the hotel," said Nancy Chang, who was on a business trip from China in Tacloban City and walked three hours through mud and debris for a military-led evacuation at the airport.

"It's like the end of the world."


Six people were killed and dozens wounded during heavy winds and storms in central Vietnam as Haiyan approached the coast, state media reported, even though it had weakened substantially since hitting the Philippines.

Vietnam authorities have moved 883 000 people in 11 central provinces to safe zones, according to the government's website.

- Reuters


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