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Relief Workers in Philippines Struggle to Reach Typhoon Victims

  • Daniel Schearf

An aerial view of a fishing village in Guiwan town, devastated by super Typhoon Haiyan, in Samar province in central Philippines Nov. 11, 2013.

An aerial view of a fishing village in Guiwan town, devastated by super Typhoon Haiyan, in Samar province in central Philippines Nov. 11, 2013.

As international aid rushes to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines, groups say rescue and relief efforts are being slowed by roadblocks caused by massive amounts of debris. Three days after Typhoon Haiyan came ashore, authorities are still struggling to even gauge the extent of the devastation. Meanwhile U.S. military transport planes and a contingent of Marines have arrived to help.

Supplies of emergency food, water, and sanitation are being flown in by helicopter to the storm-damaged central Philippines, three days after a record super typhoon.

Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, slammed into eastern Leyte and Samar islands on Friday, obliterating everything in its path and cutting off supplies of power and water, as well as crucial road links.

U.S. military C-130 planes, filled with relief supplies and Marines, began arriving in Tacloban, the devastated capital of Leyte, on Monday.

Orla Fagan, spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Manila, estimated that nine million people have been affected by the storm, but the extent of damage is still unknown because the rescue effort remains handicapped by debris, downed trees and power lines.

"Certainly Tacloban has been hardest hit. But, in the areas where we haven't been able to access, we actually don't know what the damage is. So, we do expect that there will be increased numbers of dead, deaths reported. And we are doing our very best to access the people who are desperately in need at this stage," said Fagan.

The international community responded quickly with offers of emergency help.

Fagan said that donations and commitments are coming in from Australia, European countries, Turkey, and North America. She said that aside from food and water, one of the biggest concerns is shelter; the Philippines is still in the midst of its rainy season.

"The International Organization for Migration committed 4,000 tarpaulins, the United States has airlifted plastic sheeting for 10,000 households, and that will arrive in the next 24 to 48 hours. The UK rapid response of 5 million pounds, about $8 million U.S. dollars, for 15,000 shelter kits, the Catholic Relief Services have mobilized 18,000 tarpaulins. France has airlifted plastic sheeting and non-food items, and Habitat for Humanity is collaborating with the government to distribute 30,000 tarpaulins," said Fagan.

Within Asia, Japan and Singapore were sending medical and rescue teams. China, which has had tense relations with Manila in recent years because of their territorial dispute in the South China Sea, said it is pledging humanitarian aid, including a $100,000 cash donation.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has dispatched an assessment team to the area to discuss possible relief support.

Typhoon Haiyan weakened significantly before reaching Vietnam on Sunday.

Francis Markus, a spokesman for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent said from Hanoi that Haiyan is one of a series of destructive storms to hit Vietnam in the last few weeks. Thousands of people are still struggling to recover.

"In Vietnam, we are already appealing for emergency help for those people who were hit by the earlier typhoons and we are trying to increase the amount of support as the storms have compounded each other. And, we will have to really assess the situation as far as this latest storm and how much damage it has added. But, really, there is continuing concern and continuing need to help people regain their resilience after a very, very difficult few weeks in Vietnam," said Markus.

International aid workers have said that countries that suffer frequent natural disasters need to invest more in preparedness and development to help people become more resilient.

Typhoon Haiyan cut power for two days on the Philippines island of Bohol, which is still recovering from a magnitude 7.2 earthquake which struck last month and killed over 200 people.

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