Counting the dead a haunting experience after Haiyan

Counting the dead in the Philippines is a grisly and haunting experience for those courageous enough to carry out the work.

Counting the dead a haunting experience after Haiyan

Policemen have been doing it for 10 days, after Typhoon Haiyan struck.

Since the violent cyclone smashed into the scattered Pacific islands a week and a half ago, the practice of digging and filling mass graves is growing.

Locals fear deadly diseases could spread and Philippine youngsters have no qualms about playing near body bags on the streets.

Palo’s communities felt the full brunt of the 200mph winds and waves. The town in the province of Leyte was at the epicentre of the storm.

Their humble wooden shacks were snapped apart like matchsticks while corrugated roofs flew off and wrapped themselves around decapitated trees.

Pepito Logega, 35, has been a policeman for 10 years but never experienced anything like this.

Wearing surgical gloves and a mask while standing over a mass grave filled with over 50 men, women and children, he says: “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. And then there’s the nightmares. At night when I sleep, the smell is still there.”

In the centre of Palo, bandaged women and men queue outside a makeshift hospital on the grounds of a church. Some have been there since dawn. The roof of the church is gone and, appearing similar to a doll’s house, it looks like the roof was lifted off in one piece.

NGO workers explain that most injuries received during the storm were inflicted by flying debris.

Among the volunteers on Leyte is Kerry woman Geraldine Drury, 62, who is working with a surgical team. She has been a plastic surgeon nurse for the last 40 years. She explained why she had joined up with a British international trauma response unit.

“We’re dealing with fractured skulls and femurs. But numbers injured are likely to rise. We’re likely to see a rise in the death toll too,” says the Dingle woman.

The road to Palo is lined with debris, overturned cars swept into the trees by the raging waves as they hit land. Ambulances and vans ferry patients for evacuation to the airport where US troops are transferring typhoon victims on giant military planes from Leyte to the capital Manila or other islands.

The Typhoon Haiyan death toll last night stood at 4,000 but the United Nations say the true number of fatalities from the deadly storm may never be known.

UN says up to 4 million displaced

United Nations officials believe up to 13 million people have been affected by the Nov 8 cyclone, with as many as 4 million of these displaced.

While thousands of water access points have been reopened in cities and towns damaged, there are fears that disease could spread.

A vaccine campaign is being planned by NGOs to limit any spread of measles while aid groups are on the watch for large scale break outs of pneumonia.

Irish charity Goal has begun loading much-needed food supplies including rice, tinned sardines and noodles, which will be distributed to over 2,500 people on Friday on the provincial island of Leyte. This will be its fourth largest scale distribution.

Goal’s Frank McManus, the charity’s emergency coordinator in the Philippines, said petrol stations had begun to open in the province but the price of fuel had gone up five times.

Locals have also complained that the price of rice has nearly doubled and risen to 70 pesos a kilo.

Families were still in desperate need of shelter, said the Goal official.

Crops had been destroyed as far as 10km inland in some places, he added.

Meanwhile, a ship containing emergency supplies from Irish Aid landed in the Pacific islands on Monday night. Several Irish NGOs will access the supplies in the coming days.

Despite countries and NGOs so far pledging to send over $190m, it is now expected that the rebuilding of the Philippine islands, hit by the cyclone, will cost in excess of $4bn.

More in this section

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox