Tacloban (Philippines): US and British warships were deployed today to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines where well over 10,000 people are feared dead and countless survivors are begging for help in rain-soaked wastelands.
The official government death toll stands at 1,774, although authorities have admitted they have not come close to accurately assessing the number of bodies lying amid the rubble or swept out to sea.
Four days after Super Typhoon Haiyan destroyed entire coastal towns in mostly poor central islands with record winds and tsunami-like waves, the magnitude of the disaster continued to build with almost unimaginable horror.
“We are certainly expecting the worst. As we get more and more access we find the tragedy of more and more people killed in this typhoon,” UN humanitarian operations director John Ging said, after Philippine President Benigno Aquino declared a “state of national calamity”.
The United Nations warned 10,000 people were feared dead in just one city, Tacloban, the provincial capital of Leyte province where five-metre waves flattened nearly everything in their path as they swept hundreds of metres inland.
Nearly 10 million people, or 10 per cent of the Philippines’ population, have been affected, while 660,000 have lost their homes, the UN estimated as it launched a flash appeal to raise millions of dollars for relief efforts.
Overwhelmed and under-resourced rescue workers have been unable to provide desperately needed food, water, medicines, shelter and other relief supplies to many survivors, and desperation has been building across the disaster zones.
“There is nothing here left for us. Our house is gone, we don’t have any money, we don’t have our documents, passports, school records,” Carol Mampas, 48, told AFP at Tacloban’s destroyed airport as she cradled her feverish baby son in a blanket.
“Please, please, tell authorities to help us. Where is the food, where is the water? Where are the military collecting the dead?”
Bodies still litter the wreckage, while security concerns are building as gangs take advantage of a security vacuum to loot homes and businesses that survived the typhoon.
The government announced a night-time curfew for Tacloban and deployed special forces across the ruined city in a bid to prevent looting.
Heavy rain overnight in Tacloban compounded the survivors’ desperation, while a tropical storm to the south threatened other typhoon-hit islands where hundreds of other people were
An international relief effort has gained momentum, with the US and Britain announcing they would quickly deploy warships carrying thousands of soldiers to the Philippines.
The Pentagon said the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which has 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft aboard, will head to the United States’ close Asian ally today, from Hong Kong where it is currently on a port visit.
Five other warships are also being deployed, and the group is expected to reach the Philippines within two to three days, the Pentagon said. Ninety US marines arrived in Tacloban yesterday as an advance team.
“These ships and aircraft will be able to provide humanitarian assistance, supplies, and medical care in support of the ongoing efforts led by the government and military of the Republic of the Philippines,” the Pentagon said.
Britain will also send a warship, currently deployed in nearby Singapore, “at full speed” to the Philippines, Prime Minister David Cameron announced yesterday.
Many other countries have pledged help with even China, which has been embroiled in a bitter territorial dispute with the Philippines, offering aid and sympathy.
The UN children’s fund UNICEF said a cargo plane carrying 60 tonnes of aid including shelters and medicine would arrive in the Philippines today, to be followed by deliveries of water purification and sanitation equipment.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, was also organising an airlift carrying aid including hygiene kits. Aquino’s declaration yesterday of a state of calamity allowed the government to impose price controls and quickly release emergency funds.
“In the coming days, be assured: help will reach you faster and faster,” he said in a televised address.
“My appeal to you all is: remaining calm, praying, cooperating with, and assisting one another are the things that will help us to rise from this calamity.”
Haiyan’s sustained winds when it hit Samar island, where it first made landfall, reached 315 kilometres an hour, making it the strongest typhoon in the world this year and one of the most powerful ever recorded.
Aerial photos of Samar showed whole districts of coastal towns reduced to piles of splintered wood.
The advance US marines expressed shock at the scale of the disaster after getting a bird’s eye view flying into Tacloban aboard C-130 transport aircraft full of relief supplies.
The Philippines is hit with an average of 20 tropical storms or typhoons a year, as they emerge from the Pacific Ocean and sweep west.
If the death toll of more than 10,000 is correct, Haiyan would be the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded in the country, exceeding the 1976 Moro Gulf tsunami that killed between 5,000 and 8,000 people.