By Manuel Mogato and Roli Ng
TACLOBAN, Philippines (Reuters) – Desperate survivors of one of the most powerful storms ever recorded begged for help and scavenged for food, water and medicine in the central Philippines four days after an estimated 10,000 people were killed by a Typhoon Haiyan.
Thousands of people were believed to be missing in the ruins of towns and villages in the southeast Asian island country hit by the typhoon on Friday. By the early hours of Tuesday morning, some areas had not yet been reached by relief workers, according to humanitarian group CARE.
“People are becoming quite desperate. Some officials just came and told us that there has been looting in the area, people trying to get rice for their families,” Sandra Bulling, CARE’s international emergency communications officer, said in her blog written on Monday from Jaro, a small town on the way to Tacloban. Tacloban in Leyte province bore the brunt of the storm.
Aid groups and corporations in the United States were working to provide help.
Additional U.S. military forces arrived in the Philippines on Monday to bolster relief efforts, officials said, with U.S. military cargo planes transporting food, medical supplies and water for victims. Other U.S. aircraft were pre-positioning to assist the Philippines, with U.S. forces operating out of Villamor Air Base in the capital Manila and in the coastal city of Tacloban.
The national government and disaster agency have not confirmed the latest estimate of deaths, a sharp increase from initial estimates on Saturday of at least 1,200 killed by a storm whose sustained winds reached 195 miles per hour with gusts of up to 235 mph.
FedEX Corp, the Memphis, Tennessee-based global courier delivery company, said in a statement it was “working closely with disaster relief organizations (American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Direct Relief and Heart to Heart) to donate transportation of equipment and relief supplies to impacted areas.”
Philippine President Benigno Aquino declared a state of national calamity and deployed hundreds of soldiers in Tacloban to quell looting. Tacloban’s administration appeared to be in disarray as city and hospital workers focused on saving their own families and securing food.
Operations were further hampered because roads, airports and bridges had been destroyed or were covered in wreckage from a storm with winds of up to 195 mph.
Bodies littered the streets of Tacloban, rotting and swelling, and people walked covering their noses with rags or old clothes to mask the stench. The United Nations said officials in the town had reported one mass grave of 300-500 bodies.
SEASIDE TOWN LEVELED
Typhoon Haiyan leveled Basey, a seaside town in Samar province about 10 km (6 miles) across a bay from Tacloban, where at least 10,000 people were killed, according to officials. About 2,000 people were missing in Basey, said the governor of Samar province.
“The situation is bad, the devastation has been significant. In some cases the devastation has been total,” Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras told a news conference on Monday.
Flattened by surging waves and monster winds up to 235 mph, Tacloban, 580 km (360 miles) southeast of Manila, was relying almost entirely for supplies and evacuation on just three military transport planes flying from nearby Cebu city. Dozens of residents clamored for help at the airport gates.
The Philippine delegate at United Nations climate talks in Warsaw began a fast on Monday in protest at a lack of action on global warming that he blamed for fuelling the super typhoon.
Typhoon Haiyan left the Philippines and weakened as it moved over northern Vietnam and into southern China, but more bad weather was on the way with a depression expected to bring rain to the central and southern Philippines on Tuesday, the weather bureau said.
WALL OF WATER
Residents of Tacloban told terrifying accounts of being swept away by a wall of water, revealing a city that had been hopelessly unprepared for a storm of Haiyan’s power. Most of the damage and deaths were caused by waves that inundated towns, washed ships ashore and swept away villages in scenes reminiscent of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Jean Mae Amande, 22, said she was washed several kilometers from her home by the surge of water. The current ripped her out to sea before pushing her back to shore where she was able to cling to a tree and grab a rope thrown from a boat. An old man who had been swimming with her died when his neck was gashed by an iron roof, she said.
“It’s a miracle that the ship was there,” Amande said.
Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded, is estimated to have destroyed about 70 to 80 percent of structures in its path. The damage to the coconut- and rice-growing region was expected to amount to more than 3 billion pesos ($69 million), Citi Research said in a report, adding that there would be “massive losses” of private property.
International aid agencies said relief resources in the largely Roman Catholic country 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.
Twenty-one countries pledged to send relief, Aquino said. The Italian bishops conference pledged 3 million euro in emergency aid, adding to $150,000 given by Pope Francis and 100,000 euro by Catholic charity Caritas.
The official death toll is likely to climb rapidly once rescuers reach remote parts of the coast, such as Guiuan, a town in eastern Samar province with a population of 40,000 that was largely destroyed.
($1 = 43.1900 Philippine pesos)