News / Asia

Aquino Vows to Stay in Typhoon-hit Central Philippines

Aquino Vows to Stay in Typhoon-hit Central Philippinesi
November 18, 2013 10:19 AM
Philippine President Benigno Aquino has vowed to "stay" in the typhoon-battered center of the country until he is "satisfied" with efforts to help survivors of a devastating November 8 storm.
Simone Orendain
Philippine President Benigno Aquino has vowed to "stay" in the typhoon-battered center of the country until he is "satisfied" with efforts to help survivors of a devastating November 8 storm.

Aquino made the pledge Sunday as he visited the hard-hit central islands of Samar and Leyte, where thousands of people flocked to ruined churches for weekly prayers.  Some gave thanks for surviving Super Typhoon Haiyan, while others prayed for the souls of the thousands of people who were killed.

Sunday services typically are a time of reflection in the Philippines, whose population is 80 percent Roman Catholic.  Filipinos have maintained that faith despite repeatedly enduring disasters of biblical proportions.

In its latest casualty report issued Sunday, the Philippine government said the typhoon killed at least 3,974 people and left about 1,200 others missing.  Many of them were swept away and drowned in a huge storm surge triggered by one of the strongest cyclones on record.

Photos by Steve Herman

  • Trees destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan are seen from a military helicopter delivering aid to isolated villages north of Tacloban, Philippines.
  • Competitors row their wooden boat during a boat racing as part of celebrations of the Water Festival in Thnol Dach, Takoe province, southwestern Cambodia.
  • The Dutch version of Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas, and his blackface sidekicks "Zwarte Piet" or "Black Pete" arrive by steamboat in Hoorn, north-western Netherlands, Nov. 16, 2013. The tradition is being debated, opponents say Black Petes are an offensive caricature of black people while supporters say Pete is a figure of fun whose appearance is harmless, his face soot-stained from going down chimneys to deliver present for the children.
  • Mt. Etna, Europe's most active volcano, spews lava during an eruption as seen from Acireale, near the Sicilian town of Catania, Italy, Nov. 16, 2013.
  • A Sri Lankan man cycles his bicycle laden with firewood to be sold in the northern town of Kilinochchi.
  • Indian Sikh devotees queue up to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple, on the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru in Amritsa.
  • Joost Luiten of the Netherlands plays a shot during the final round of the DP World Tour Golf Championship in the Gulf emirate of Dubai.
  • A demonstrator kisses a riot police officer during a protest in Susa against the high-speed train (TAV in Italian) line between Lyon and Turin, Nov. 16, 2013.
  • Adelina Sotnikova of Russia performs during the gala exhibition ending the ISU Figure Skating Eric Bompard Trophy at Bercy arena in Paris, France.
  • Indian performers ride cars and motor bikes inside a makeshift wooden cylindrical 'Wall of Death' during the annual Farmers' Fair at Shama Chak Jhiri, some 22 kilometers from Jammu.
  • Japan's Arisa Sato (L) receives the ball to save a point against Brazil on the final day of the FIVB Women's Volleyball Grand Champions Cup 2013 in Tokyo, Japan.

Beliefs challenged

Washington-based Cardinal Theodore McCarrick visited the town of Palo on Leyte island and led a mass for the faithful at a heavily damaged cathedral.   Speaking to VOA later in the day in the city of Ormoc, the 83-year-old acknowledged that words of scripture may not be enough for some traumatized people.

"At the beginning everyone is hurting.  And they lost so many friends and family," he said.  "And they do not know why God is doing this to us.   Well, in a real sense, we say it is not that God is doing this to us, [but] he is allowing these things to happen probably for a greater cause."

The Civil Defense Office also estimated that almost four million people have been left homeless.

British-based child development agency Plan International  posted a dramatic video of the storm surge on YouTube.  Filmed by staff member Nickson Gensis, it shows tsunami-like waves engulfing homes in the coastal town of Hernani on Samar island.

Gensis said he shot the video from the second floor of a building that withstood the impact.

Presidential response

It was not immediate clear where President Aquino would set up camp in the typhoon zone.  He has faced growing domestic criticism in recent days for a perceived sluggish response to the storm.

On Sunday, Mr. Aquino made visits to the ruined city of Tacloban on Leyte and the town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar province, which was the first to be hit by the typhoon.

Speaking to local officials in Guiuan, he expressed appreciation for volunteers assisting with the relief work.

"The government can rise up," he said.  "There are so many countries helping, that the Philippines will be able to recover.  But if every [small town] were to volunteer to help immediately, the process would be easier and faster."

Aquino has made similar trips out of Manila to respond to recent crises.

Last month, Aquino slept overnight in an army tent on the central island of Bohol, where an earthquake killed more than 200 people and left thousands homeless.  He also spent several days in the southern city of Zamboanga in September to oversee a military offensive against Muslim rebels who seized parts of the area.

Aid intensifies

The scope of international aid deliveries in the typhoon-battered Philippines widened Monday as U.S. military helicopters dropped food, water and relief supplies to remote island and mountain communities.
The aircraft carrier USS George Washington is serving as the hub of aid efforts, ferrying out supplies for distribution by aircraft and bringing in hundreds of victims for aid and medical treatment.

  • U.S. Marines help load relief supplies onto an MH-60R Seahawk to be airlifted to remote areas of the Philippines in support of Operation Damayan. (U.S. Navy)
  • Philippine citizens board an HC-130 Hercules to be airlifted to safety. (U.S. Navy)
  • Philippine citizens board an HC-130 Hercules as U.S. sailors transport relief supplies in support of Operation Damayan. (U.S. Navy)
  • U.S. military personnel and and Philippine civilians unload relief supplies. (U.S. Navy)
  • U.S. military personnel and Philippine citizens unload relief supplies. (U.S. Navy)
  • A U.S. Hospital Corpsman assists Philippine nurses in treating a patient's head wound at the Immaculate Conception School refugee camp.  (U.S. Navy)
  • An HC-130 Hercules and other military aircraft sit on the tarmac at Guiuan airport waiting to airlift Philippine citizens in support of Operation Damayan. (U.S. Navy)
  • A U.S. Naval Air Crewman assists Philippine citizens in distributing relief supplies in support of Operation Damayan. (U.S. Navy)
  • Philippine citizens gather around a MH-60S Seahawk as it delivers relief supplies. (U.S. Navy)

On the ground, there are signs that devastated communities are beginning to recover, with some markets reopening and a few gasoline stations starting to pump fuel once again. People are repairing damaged homes or making temporary shelters out of the remains of their old ones.
The U.S. government has announced a further $10 million in aid, bringing its commitment so far to $37 million.

The Philippine government said it delivered about 115,000 food packages to survivors on Saturday, a significant jump from the 45,000 it passed out on Friday.

Overseas Catholic charities also were on the ground in some of the worst-hit communities.  Martha Skretteberg of Caritas Norway told VOA her group was coordinating closely with local Catholic churches. 

"The people run to the church at the first opportunity in order to get protection, in order to get food, some help," she said.

Hundreds of Philippine domestic workers in Hong Kong used their single day off from work to collect donations of goods and money to send to the disaster area.  Many also prayed for the well-being of loved ones in the affected region.  Hong Kong is home to about 150,000 Filipinos, most of them employed as domestic workers.

China's foreign ministry said Beijing is ready to send emergency medical teams to the Philippines when "conditions permit."  The Chinese government made the offer after its contribution of almost $2 million in typhoon aid prompted critics to draw unflattering comparisons with much larger donations from Western powers.

Chinese-Philippine relations have been tense the past year as each side criticized the other for asserting sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Steve Herman and Michael Lipin contributed to this report from Ormoc, Philippines and Washington.

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Comment Sorting
by: Keen from: Philippines
November 20, 2013 10:54 AM
PNoy, as we call him in the Philippines has been an originator of change in my country and so far he's good at what he does...We've seen him gradually changing the infamous political system in the Philippines, yet due to time constraint, these changes were minimal yet promising...Recently, this man, had made the biggest mistake in his political career and thus besmirch his clean-slate disposition...His recent supervision of our current predicament might be the his downfall...

by: Hugh M Anwright from: Seattle Makati
November 19, 2013 12:13 AM
Aquino needed to assert control over his army and rescue forces, his airports and his presidency 7 days ago. What a mouth, blaming the devastated local authorities. He is now only in the way. His men removed the drugs and money 4 days ago.

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