Rescuers struggle in devastated Philippines

Catastrophic damage hampers relief efforts as authorities rush to get food, medicine and tents to thousands in need.

Rescue workers faced blocked roads and damaged airports as they raced to deliver desperately needed tents, food and medicines to the typhoon-devastated eastern Philippines where thousands are believed dead.

Three days after Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the region, the full scale of the disaster – the biggest faced by the Philippines – was becoming apparent on Monday. 

The winds and the sea waves whipped up were so strong that they washed big ships inland, which now stood incongruously amid debris of buildings, trees, road signs and people’s belongings.

Authorities estimated that up to 10,000 people may have died, but the destruction has made it difficult to count the dead. The Philippine military on Monday announced it had only confirmed 942 people dead with the number expected to rise. Officials said after surveying the areas there is little doubt that the death toll will be reach estimates, or even higher.

In Tacloban city, the capital of Leyte province, corpses hung from trees and were scattered on sidewalks. Many were buried in flattened buildings. The entire city appeared to have been obliterated. From the air the landscape resembled a giant garbage dump punctuated by a few concrete buildings that still stood.

Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Tacloban , said survivors started streaming into the local airport on Monday morning desperate for food, water and material to build shelters as military flights resumed bringing in aid.

“The military will need to start bringing in body bags because so many people dead and so many are missing and no substantial search for these bodies has begun,” Hay said.

Many people were also arriving at the airport wanting to leave, Hay added, because their homes had been destroyed. Military flights were taking them away to either nearby Cebu or to Manila.

“This area has been totally ravaged”, said Sebastien Sujobert, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tacloban. “Many lives were lost, a huge number of people are missing, and basic services such as drinking water and electricity have been cut off.”

He said both the Philippine Red Cross and the ICRC offices in Tacloban had been damaged, forcing staff to relocate temporarily. The United Nations said it was sending supplies but access to the worst hit areas was a challenge.

However, a main bridge that links Tacloban with the rest of the country has been cleared, making it possible for trucks to reach Tacloban.

Ships carrying relief goods are also en route but as the seaport remains damaged, there will be difficulty transporting the supplies onshore, Al Jazeera’s Marga Ortigas reported from the capital, Manila.

The United States and Australia are mobilising emergency aid and the US Pentagon is sending military personnel and equipment to assist with the relief effort.

People swept away

Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday and quickly barrelled across its central islands, packing winds of 235 kph that gusted to 275 kph, and a storm surge of 6 metres.

Even though authorities had evacuated about 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon, the death toll was so high because many evacuation centres – brick-and-mortar schools, churches and government buildings – could not withstand the winds and water surges.

Officials said people who had huddled in these buildings drowned or were swept away.

“I have no house, I have no clothes. I don’t know how I will restart my life, I am so confused,” an unidentified woman said, crying. “I don’t know what happened to us. We are appealing for help. Whoever has a good heart, I appeal to you – please help Guiuan.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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