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Philippine city has first mass burial

14 November 2013, 13:21

Tacloban - A Philippines city devastated typhoon Haiyan buried some of its dead in a mass grave in a hillside cemetery on Thursday, a small sign of progress in a relief effort that has yet to reach most of the tens of thousands affected by the disaster.

The ceremony took place in a graveyard just outside the city of Tacloban.

No prayers were said as workers buried 30 bodies enclosed in leaking black cadaver bags into the ground.

"I hope this is the last time I see something like this," said Mayor Alfred Romualdez. "When I look at this it just reminds me of what has happened from the day the storm hit until today."

Death toll expected to rise

Officials said efforts had been made to identify the bodies so families have a chance of finding out what happened to their loved ones in the days and weeks to come, but it was not immediately clear whether this included DNA testing.

Authorities say 2 357 people have been confirmed dead in the disaster, but that figure is expected to rise, perhaps significantly, when information is collected from other areas of the disaster zone. Most casualties appear to be concentrated on coastal regions of two main islands, Samar and Leyte, where Tacloban is located.

Earlier in the city, soldiers sat atop trucks distributing rice and water, and chainsaw-wielding teams cut debris from blocked roads, indications that relief operations were picking up steam, even as thousands swarmed the airport, desperate to leave.

The first night time flights arrived since the typhoon struck, suggesting air control systems are now in place for a 24-7 operation a prerequisite for the massive relief operation needed.

Food, water and medical supplies from the US, Malaysia and Singapore sat on pallets along the tarmac.

The UN's World Food Programme distributed rice and other items to nearly 50 000 people in the Tacloban area on Wednesday. Nearly 10 tons of high-energy biscuits were also delivered to the city on Wednesday, with another 25 tons on the way.

Medical woes

Hundreds of injured people, pregnant women, children and the elderly have poured into a makeshift medical centre at the ruined airport. The run-down, single-storey building with filthy floors has little medicine, virtually no facilities and very few doctors.

Doctors who have been dealing with cuts, fractures and pregnancy' complications said on Wednesday they soon expect to be treating more serious problems such as pneumonia, dehydration, diarrhoea and infections.

The medical woes add to the daunting tasks for authorities, including dealing with looters and clearing the bottlenecks holding up thousands of tons of aid material from coming in.

The disaster displaced 600 000 people. Many are living without shelter, hungry and thirsty, with their livelihoods destroyed. Much of the aid and the staff needed to distribute it remains stuck in Manila and the nearby airport of Cebu, a 45-minute flight away.

"The priority has got to be, let's get the food in, let's get the water in. We got a lot more come in today, But even that won't be enough, We really need to scale up operations in an ongoing basis," UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters after touring Talcoban. Her office has released $25m in emergency relief funds, accounting for a chunk of the millions of dollars pledged by countries around the world.

- AP


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