The U.S. Navy launched a huge relief operation in the typhoon-ravaged central Philippines Thursday, as the devastated Philippine city of Tacloban began the grim task of burying its dead.
The aircraft carrier USS George Washington and a contingent of seven supply ships arrived in the Philippine Sea early Thursday, and began delivering water and emergency rations to the wrecked city. The carrier also has medical facilities and can produce 1.5 million liters of fresh water a day. One of the ships in the carrier group, the USNS Charles Drew, made its first delivery of food and drinking water to the storm ravaged city of Tacloban Thursday.
The giant hospital ship USS Mercy also is making emergency preparations to depart the United States, and is expected to join the emergency flotilla within weeks, along with the British carrier HMS Illustrious.
Meanwhile, rescue personnel began lowering unidentified bodies into a mass grave near Tacloban's city hall Thursday, as U.S. helicopters sped food and water to the city and reconnaissance aircraft began charting the areas worst-hit last week by Typhoon Haiyan.
The flow of relief supplies has been hampered by wrecked roadways and the lack of gasoline in and near the city. Officials say the fuel shortages have been made worse by retail merchants afraid to sell their gasoline supplies for fear of rioting by an increasingly desperate population.
There were no official burial ceremonies Thursday. But a police photographer told the Associated Press that a portion of the femur was removed from each corpse, and that technicians will later extract DNA from those remains to match with surviving next of kin.
The death toll from last Friday's storm stands at 2,357, although Tacloban's mayor said the count is expected to rise significantly.
United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who toured Tacloban Wednesday, later called the situation "dismal," with tens of thousands of people living during monsoon season in the open and exposed to rain and wind.
Food, water and other basic necessities are still in short supply for many of the hundreds of thousands displaced. Some have turned to looting to survive. One survivor said she has not received any help, six days after the storm.
"We haven't received anything, not even a drop of porridge. My two siblings could die, my elder brother and my nephew are sick, I'm the only one who is not sick. Are they going to wait for all of us here to get sick and die one by one before they do anything? And when we ask them, they sid, 'We have no information.' What kind of people are these? They said they would help.''
Although the amount of aid material shipped to affected areas has steadily increased, much of it has been unused at airports or other areas because of a lack of fuel and because roads are still blocked by debris.
Asked why the arrival of aid has not happened faster Jeremy Konyndyk, the Director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance for USAID, said in a VOA interview that: "we had to work a couple of days to work through some logistical obstacles and just to get the aid pipeline set up." Konyndyk said over the next couple of days there will be a "real uptick" in the amount of relief getting into the small and damaged Tacloban airport, and getting out to people who need it.
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