Battle for aid to reach typhoon survivors

Workers in the typhoon-shattered city of Tacloban buried scores of unidentified bodies in a hillside mass burial as desperately needed aid began to reach some of the half-million people displaced by the disaster.

Dozens more bodies were lined up in bags outside Tacloban City Hall waiting to be taken to burial sites. Six days after typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines, many of the dead were still lying along roads as survivors searched for bodies buried under the rubble.

Philippine soldiers on trucks distributed rice and water as chainsaw-wielding teams cut debris from blocked roads. Thousands more swarmed the city’s damaged airport, desperate to leave or to get treatment at a makeshift medical centre.

The USS George Washington aircraft carrier arrived in the Philippine Sea near the Gulf of Leyte, and will set up a position off the coast of Samar Island to assess the damage and provide medical and water supplies, the 7th Fleet said in a statement. The carrier and its strike group brought 21 helicopters to the area, which can help reach the most inaccessible areas.

Authorities say 2,357 people have been confirmed dead, but that figure is expected to rise, perhaps significantly, when information is collected from other areas.

In the city’s first mass burial, scores of bodies in leaking black bags were lowered into graves without any prayers being said.

John Cajipe, 31, and three teenage boys who work at the local cemetery placed the first body in the grave’s right hand corner. Sweat rolled down their faces in the blistering sun as they carried the body.

The second body followed two minutes later, carefully placed alongside the first. And so on, until scores of bodies — all unidentified — filled the grave.

“I hope this is the last time I see something like this,” said mayor Alfred Romualdez. “When I look at this it just reminds me of what has happened from the day the storm hit until today.”

In addition to the USS George Washington, about a half dozen other US ships — including a destroyer and two huge supply vessels — are already in the area, along with two P-3 aircraft that are being used to survey the damage from the sky so that planners can assess where aid is most needed, the 7th Fleet said.

“We are operating 24/7,” said captain Cassandra Gesecki, a spokeswoman for the Marines, who have set up an operations hub near Manila’s international airport. “We are inundated with flights.”

Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian chief who toured Tacloban, said 11.5m people have been affected by the typhoon, which includes people who lost their loved ones, were injured, and suffered damage to their homes, business or livelihoods.

“The situation is dismal ... tens of thousands of people are living in the open ... exposed to rain and wind,” she told reporters.


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