Food at last
Palace Calls On Detractors To ‘Help Get Things Done’; More Relief Aid Needed
Manila, Philippines – Substantial food and medical aid finally began reaching the desperate survivors of super-typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) yesterday, but humanitarian groups warned of huge logistical challenges in accessing devastated, remote island communities.
The unprecedented ferocity of the November 8 storm and the scale of destruction had completely overwhelmed the initial relief effort, leaving millions in the worst-hit islands of Leyte and Samar hurt, homeless, and hungry, with no power or water.
‘Help Get Things Done’
With the growing criticisms against the government’s response to the disaster, Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) Secretary Ricky Carandang called on detractors of the ongoing disaster relief efforts to instead be part of the solution and “help get things done.”
Now eight days later, a working aid pipeline was in place on the ground, funnelling emergency supplies to those left destitute in the ruins of Leyte’s Tacloban city, while helicopters flying off the aircraft carrier USS George Washington brought some relief to outlying areas.
UN agencies said more than 170,000 people had received rice rations or food packets, while the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said they would have mobile surgical units up and running in Tacloban by the end of the weekend.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said 23 of the 40 towns in Leyte have been supplied with relief goods –122,833 food and rice packs; 8,100 liters of water; 11,000 units of high energy biscuits for children and the elderly.
In Ormoc, she said 10,000 food packs have already been distributed to typhoon victims while in Eastern Samar, 23,594 food and rice packs, and 213 boxes of canned goods have been distributed.
‘Money Is Useless Here’
“The place really needs to be saturated with relief,” Red Cross Asia-Pacific spokesman Patrick Fuller said in Tacloban.
“People literally have nothing. Money is useless here,” he said.
Since the arrival of the USS George Washington late Thursday, the US military said it had delivered 118 tons of food, water, and shelter items to Tacloban and elsewhere, and airlifted nearly 2,900 people to safety.
Although aid was arriving, relief officials described conditions in the covered sports stadium in Tacloban that served as the main evacuation center as appalling, with an almost total absence of proper sanitation.
Children and the elderly remained particularly vulnerable, often unable to get to the relief distribution points opening in the city.
“I have money … but I cannot eat my money,” Beatrice Bisquera, 91, a retired school supervisor, said in what remained of her home in Tacloban.
“I need medicine but there is no pharmacy that’s open. I’m hungry but the food we stored is gone,” she said.
‘System At Work’
We certainly understand the frustration of a lot of people and we’re frustrated ourselves. (But) I think we should start looking at this in a less emotional point of view and see what’s happening and perhaps it might be more productive to help get things done,” Carandang said in a chance interview at the command center in Tacloban City where the national government conducts inter-agency meetings each morning.
Carandang said he acknowledged and understood the frustrations of the victims, particularly those who have lost everything – from loved ones to property and livelihood – but at the same time insisted that there is a Yolanda “system at work” in churning out much-needed aid.
He pointed to a group of local residents – storm victims – in Borongan City, Eastern Samar, who have taken up a more active role in the disaster relief operations. They’re packing relief goods under the supervision of the governor and sending them down to Guiuan and the southern towns.
In its last update, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council put the official death toll at 3,637, with 1,186 people missing and nearly 12,501 injured.
The UN has put the number of dead at 4,460 and said yesterday that 2.5 million people still “urgently” required food assistance.
Consul Clarifies Statement
Philippine Consul General to Los Angeles Hellen Barber De La Vega had earlier told Filipinos and US media that the death toll was 23,000, a statement she regretted later.
In her urgent advisory issued Friday (Saturday, Manila time), De La Vega clarified that the 23,000 persons she mentioned at a briefing last November 14 with members of the Filipino community and local media in Los Angeles are actually persons reported missing and not the number of fatalities.
An estimated 13 million people were affected by the storm, including nearly 1.9 million displaced survivors.
The World Health Organization voiced concern over the welfare of remote communities on 20 smaller islands which posed an “exceedingly complicated” aid challenge.
“Because of the geography of the Philippines – an archipelago of many islands – and the fact that so many have been hit by the typhoon, it is essentially like mounting at least seven separate, simultaneous relief efforts,” said Julie Hall, the WHO’s representative in the Philippines.
“This multiplies the logistical challenges associated with the response,” Hall said.
Our House Is Gone
Frustrated with the slow pace of the initial relief effort, a large number of people with relatives in the impacted areas decided to take matters into their own hands.
Filling boxes and sacks with everything from packets of rice to cup noodles and candles, they boarded ferries from Cebu to Ormoc, Leyte.
“That’s my village,” Nick Cantuja said softly, pointing from the ferry as it approached the coast.
“Our house is gone now. Everything… it’s gone.
“Yesterday, a Red Cross team was able to reach there but it’s not enough,” he added.
Providing basic medical care remains a top priority, with initial assessments that half of the 38 medical facilities in the impacted region had been wiped out.
Despite the fears for those living in remote areas, some appeared to have been better prepared for the super typhoon than those in larger towns and cities.
The tiny Camotes islands, between Cebu and off Leyte, took a direct hit that flattened most villages, but out of a population of 89,400 there were only five confirmed fatalities.
Alfredo Arquillano, the former mayor of the islands’ largest town, San Francisco, said Camotes residents had been practising typhoon drills for years.
“We knew we were vulnerable, so we made absolutely sure that everybody knew what to do and where to go,” Arquillano told AFP by phone.
All 1,000 residents of one of the chain’s tiniest islets, Tulang Diyot, were evacuated to a larger island before Haiyan made landfall.
“My goodness, it was a good decision. It’s fair to say it saved everyone’s life. There is not one house left standing on Tulang Diyot. Everything was wiped out,” Arquillano said.
Authorities are facing an enormous monstrous task of disposing tons and tons of garbage and debris here that were littered by strong winds and dumped by giant waves during Yolanda’s onslaught.
While most of the streets have already been cleared, the rubbles are just piled up alongside the road, with no clear-cut answers when these will be taken out since the focus of the operations here is to retrieve the dead and feed thousands of families severely affected and displaced families.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, who has been supervising the relief and response operations in Tacloban, said they have already deployed four dump trucks from the Department of Public Works and Highways for clearing operations.
But Roxas is particularly concerned with the garbage and debris disposal, saying he wants to maximize the resources that have been continuously pouring in here to restore normalcy.
“They have to be taken out because if not, nobody is going back here just to take them (debris) out,” said Roxas.
From fallen trees to what used to be parts of houses and commercial establishments and even some flipped cars, the rubbles initially rendered all the road networks here impassable to all types of vehicles especially right after the Yolanda devastation.
Initially, a task force was in charge of the clearing operations, but Roxas got dismayed after the four dump trucks assigned to it were not being fully utilized.
To iron out the problem, Roxas appointed Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino as chairman of the task force in charge of the clearing operations.
“Just give us the keys of the trucks and that of the payloader and we will take care of that. We have enough personnel to do the driving and the operation of heavy equipment,” said Tolentino.
With the glitch ironed out, Roxas said he expects better operations on clearing and disposal operations which became the weakest link in overall response to Yolanda devastation.
Tolentino said all the rubbles and garbage will be properly dispose of in a span of one week, adding that they will be working on a 24-hour basis.
“Give us one week. We have already identified two major dumping sites and we already starting to take the rubbles there,” said Tolentino.
Asked of Roxas’s concern on waste management, Tolentino said solid waste management experts from the MMDA office in Manila will arrive heve to make the assessment and craft the necessary action plans.
Stench Of Death
Local residents told the Manila Bulletin in an interview that there are still a lot of cadavers under the pile of debris, especially in areas which used to be residential areas.
The proof, they said, is the stench smell of decomposing body.
But as local residents themselves started mobilizing for clearing operations, more cadavers were retrieved which is the reason some bodies are still lined up along the streets inside cadaver bags.
E. Visayas: 3,442 Deaths
In yesterday’s briefing, the Office of Civil Defense in Eastern Visayas reported that the death toll in the region has already reached 3,442 and with at least 1,124 others missing.
A separate task force under the Bureau of Fire Protection was already assigned for cadaver retrieval, the focus of the operations are on the sea where bodies are still floating and under the piles of rubbles especially in coastal areas.
The task force was also given the authority to dig up mass grave sites. The number of cadavers retrieved on Friday alone is 535.
Disease Outbreak Firewall
Yesterday, Roxas also ordered the Department of Health contingent to maximize operations to prevent the spread of disease among the survivors.
Among them is to make sure that all hospitals would be fully operational, which the DOH vowed to accomplish today.
South Korean foreign contingents have also started fumigating the debris alongside the road, the move is to contain the spread of diseases like dengue and malaria, as well as to control the diseases that come along with the decomposition of the bodies under the rubbles. (With reports from Madel S. Namit and Roy C. Mabasa,)