U.S. carrier starts Philippine typhoon relief as Aquino comes under pressure

A typhoon victim holds a placard asking for food while standing amongst the ruins of houses destroyed by super typhoon Haiyan in Tanauan, Leyte in central Philippines November 14, 2013. Credit: Reuters
A typhoon victim holds a placard asking for food while standing amongst the ruins of houses destroyed by super typhoon Haiyan in Tanauan, Leyte in central Philippines November 14, 2013. Credit: Reuters

A U.S. aircraft carrier “strike group” started unloading food and water to the typhoon-ravaged central Philippines on Thursday, as President Benigno Aquino faced mounting pressure to speed up the distribution of supplies.

While relief efforts picked up, local authorities began burying the dead – an important, if grim, milestone for a city shredded by one of the world’s most powerful typhoons and the tsunami-like wall of seawater believed to have killed thousands.

“There are still bodies on the road,” said Alfred Romualdez, mayor of Tacloban, a city of 220,000 people reduced to rubble in worst-hit Leyte province. “It’s scary. There is a request from a community to come and collect bodies. They say it’s five or 10. When we get there, it’s 40.”

Many petrol station owners whose businesses were spared have refused to reopen, leaving little fuel for trucks needed to move supplies and medical teams around the devastated areas nearly a week after Typhoon Haiyan struck.

“The choice is to use the same truck either to distribute food or collect bodies,” Romualdez added.

The nuclear-powered USS George Washington aircraft carrier and accompanying ships arrived off wind-swept eastern Samar province, carrying 5,000 crew and more than 80 aircraft, after what strike force commander Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery called a “high-speed transit” from Hong Kong.

It is moored near where U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s force of 174,000 men landed on October 20, 1944, in one of the biggest allied victories of World War Two.

“Operation Damayan” started with the George Washington and two cruisers taking up position off Samar to assess damage and provide logistical and emergency support such as fresh water.

Ships carried 11 pallets ashore – eight containing 1,920 gallons of water and three containing food – at Tacloban airfield. Several pallets of water were taken to Guiuan, home to home to 45,000 people, which was also badly hit by the storm.

The carrier moved some fixed-wing aircraft ashore to make more room for the helicopters on the flight deck.

“One of the best capabilities the strike group brings is our 21 helicopters,” Montgomery said in a statement. “These helicopters represent a good deal of lift to move emergency supplies around.”

Britain also said it would send a helicopter carrier, HMS Illustrious, to help in the relief effort. Japan was also planning to send up to 1,000 troops as well as naval vessels and aircraft, in what could be Tokyo’s biggest postwar military deployment.

Outside Taclaban, burials began for about 300 bodies in a mass grave on Thursday. A larger grave will be dug for 1,000, city administrator Tecson John Lim told Reuters.

The city government remains paralyzed, with an average of just 70 workers compared to 2,500 normally, he added. Many were killed, injured, lost family or were simply too overcome with grief to work.

The government was distributing 50,000 “food packs” containing 6 kg (13 lb) of rice and canned goods each day, but that covers just 3 percent of the 1.73 million families affected by the typhoon.

AQUINO IN SPOTLIGHT

Aquino has been on the defensive over his handling of the storm given warnings of its projected strength and the risk of a storm surge, and now the pace of relief efforts.

He has said the death toll might have been higher had it not been for the evacuation of people and the readying of relief supplies, but survivors from worst-affected areas say they had little warning of a tsunami-like wall of water.

Aquino has also stoked debate over the extent of the casualties, citing a much lower death toll than the 10,000 estimated by local authorities. Official confirmed deaths stood at 2,357 on Thursday, a figure aid workers expect to rise.

City administrator Lim, who on Sunday estimated 10,000 likely died in Tacloban alone, said Aquino may be deliberately downplaying casualties. “Of course he doesn’t want to create too much panic. Perhaps he is grappling with whether he wants to reduce the panic so that life goes on,” he said.

The preliminary number of missing as of Thursday, according to the Red Cross, remained at 22,000. It has cautioned that that number could include people who have since been located.

Tacloban’s main convention centre, the Astrodome, has become temporary home for hundreds of people living in abject squalor. Families cooked meals amid the stench of garbage and urine. Debris was strewn along rows of seats rising from dark pools of stagnant water.

“We went into the Astrodome and asked who is in charge and just got blank stares,” said Joe Lowry, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration, which is setting up camps for the displaced.

Survivors formed long queues under searing sunshine, and then torrential rain, to charge mobile phones from the only power source available: a city hall generator. Others started to repair motorbikes and homes. A rescue worker cleared debris near a wall with the spray-painted words “We need food”.

More the 544,600 people have been displaced and nearly 12 percent of the population affected, the United Nations said. But many areas still have not received aid.

“It’s true, there are still areas that we have not been able to get to where people are in desperate need,” U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters in Manila. “I very much hope that in the next 48 hours, that will change significantly.

“Yes, I do feel that we have let people down because we have not been able to get in more quickly.”

Anger and frustration have been boiling over as essential supplies fail to reach many of those in need. Food and other goods have stacked up at the airport in Tacloban, for instance.

Some areas have appeared to teeter near anarchy amid widespread looting of shops and warehouses for food and water.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) described a bleak situation in Guiuan.

“People are living out in the open … The needs are immense and there are a lot of surrounding villages that are not yet covered by any aid organizations,” Alexis Moens, MSF’s assessment team leader, said in a statement.

Lim said 90 percent of Tacloban had been destroyed by the typhoon and the wall of seawater it shoved ashore. Only 20 percent of residents were getting aid while houses were being looted because warehouses were empty, he added.

There were also not enough flights from Tacloban airport to cope with the exodus from the stricken city.

Many people complained that military families were given priority to board the C-130 cargo planes.

“If you have a friend or relative in the military, you get priority,” said Violeta Duzar, 57, who had waited at the airport since Sunday with eight family members, including children.

The overall financial cost of the destruction was hard to assess. Initial estimates varied widely, with a report from German-based CEDIM Forensic Disaster Analysis putting the total at $8 billion to $19 billion.

 



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Sprint and T-Mobile offer further price discounts

Sprint unveiled a plan on Thursday that gives subscribers access to unlimited data for $60 a month, the industry's cheapest unlimited data offering.

National

Hundreds pay it forward at Florida Starbucks in…

The spontaneous chain of kindness continued for about 11 hours, totaling 457 transactions by the time it ended.

National

Weather system east of Caribbean could turn into…

An area of low pressure located east of the Caribbean Sea has a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression or storm in the next 48 hours, U.S. forecasters…

National

U.S. hospital to discharge doctor treated with experimental…

An American doctor who contracted Ebola treating victims of the deadly virus in Liberia has recovered and will be discharged on Thursday by the Atlanta hospital that treated him with…

Music

polyphonic

Movies

Review: 'When the Game Stands Tall' is both…

The high school football saga "When the Game Stands Tall" fumbles around for a focus while Jim Caviezel offers the most low-key coach in history.

Movies

Girlfriend in a coma: Chloe Grace Moretz

Chloe Grace Moretz is the best cheerleader "If I Stay" could ask for. As the star of the film adaptation of the successful YA novel…

The Word

The Word: Summer lovin' for Zac Efron and…

Ah, the summer romance. So intense, so fleeting. With Labor Day fast approaching, it should come as little surprise that the incredibly surprising romance between…

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Jets storylines to watch

Metro looks at three Jets storylines to watch as they play the Giants Friday.

NFL

Giants expected to work Corey Washington into first-team…

The day of reckoning for the Giants' fringe players will fall upon them Friday night against the Jets.

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…

Tech

Siren: A new dating app that puts women…

Online dating can be brutal, especially for single women. Noting that many women hate wading through inappropriate messages and photos, two tech entrepreneurs decided to…