Overwhelmed rescue workers are struggling to bring aid to famished and destitute survivors of the super typhoon that tore through the Philippines and left a feared 10,000 dead.
As rescuers tried to reach areas along a heavily damaged chain of Philippine islands, survivors described a toll that the impoverished country will be contending with for years.
Entire regions are without food and water, towns have been pulverised and bodies are strewn on the streets after typhoon Haiyan – one of Asia’s most destructive natural disasters in recent decades – brought waves as high as two-storey buildings and winds of up to 270km/h.
Threatening to further hamper the relief efforts was a tropical depression approaching the southern and central Philippines. Government weather forecasters said the depression could bring fresh floods to the typhoon-affected areas.
The typhoon touched down in central Vietnam on Monday, threatening to stretch that country’s resources to the limit.
More than 600,000 people fled their homes at the weekend to avoid the storm, which had weakened since it struck the Philippines.
Vietnamese authorities closed schools, ordered all boats back to shore and warned people fleeing the storm’s path to take enough food and water to last for three days.
The full scale of the disaster in the Philippines is only now becoming apparent, with photos and videos showing massive destruction.
There have been reports of widescale looting by desperate survivors. President Benigno Aquino, who travelled by helicopter to the hard-hit city of Tacloban, said the government had deployed soldiers to “show the strength of the state and deter further looting”.
Schoolteacher Andrew Pomeda told the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “Tacloban is totally destroyed. Some people are losing their minds from hunger or from losing their families. People are becoming violent. They are looting business establishments, the malls, just to find food.
“I’m afraid that in one week people will be killing from hunger.”
The latest Philippine government estimates suggest that 9.5 million people – about 10 per cent of the country – have been affected, with more than 600,000 displaced from their homes.
Many roads remain impassable, according to the UN office responsible for humanitarian affairs, and some of the injured have no access to medical care.
Even in Tacloban, one of the first areas accessed by aid workers, it takes six hours to make the 23-kilometre round trip between the airport and the city because of the damage, officials said.
“It is vital that we reach those who are stranded in isolated areas as they are at risk of further threats such as malnutrition, exposure to bad weather and unsafe drinking water,” said Luiza Carvalho, a UN humanitarian co-ordinator for the Philippines.
Tacloban, with a population of 220,000, is the capital of Leyte province, a mountainous island. On Samar, a slightly larger island nearby, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office told AP that 300 people were dead, 2000 were missing and parts of the island had not been contacted.
Both Samar and Leyte are on the eastern side of the Philippine archipelago; reports about islands on the western side remain sparse.
Media in Manila have reported heavily on security worries in the devastated areas.
Video footage shows crowds ramming into the Gaisano mall in Tacloban and hauling out supplies, including clothing, suitcases and an ice-cream freezer. Philippine television reported that ATMs were being looted.
Reports said that communication infrastructure was heavily damaged, slowing the emergency response. Even in Tacloban, mobile service is not possible.
“There is a need for food and water,” said Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the Philippine Red Cross. “But we still have yet to assess the full damage” because some areas are cut off.
With a massive relief operation under way, the Philippine Red Cross told the AP that its efforts were being hampered by looters, including some who attacked trucks of food and other relief supplies that the agency was shipping from the southern port city of Davao to Tacloban.
The government said it would speed up aid and food distribution to victims.
“We have to move fast considering the extent of the devastation. People in the worst-hit areas need food, water and medicines,” Corazon Juliano-Soliman, secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, said.
The UN World Food Program said it is trying to airlift supplies and set up operating hubs in the hardest-hit areas.
“The main challenges right now are related to logistics. Roads are blocked; airports are destroyed,” said Praveen Agrawal, the WFP representative in the Philippines.
President Barack Obama said that the United States was prepared to help the Philippines recover. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the military’s Pacific Command to send ships and aircraft to help with search-and-rescue operations and carry emergency supplies to those in need.
Mr Obama said the US was providing significant humanitarian assistance, “and we stand ready to further assist the government’s relief and recovery efforts”.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the millions of people affected by this devastating storm,” he said.
Australia has pledged $10 million, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop describing the unfolding tragedy as “absolutely devastating” and on a “massive scale”.
A team of Australian medics would leave on Wednesday on a C17 military transport plane from Darwin to join disaster experts on the ground, the government said.
Washington Post, London Telegraph, Agencies
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