MANILA - Badly needed aid and relief supplies have begun arriving in the hard-to-reach areas of the central Philippines one week after a super typhoon tore across the region.
Many people in need, however, still have received little or no assistance.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas says that in a situation like this, speed is of the utmost importance. Speaking Friday in the devastated city of Tacloban, he said that the need is massive, immediate and not everyone can be reached.
Disaster relief chief Eduardo del Rosario told reporters that the official death toll from the storm has risen to 3,621.
The aftermath of the disaster has made it difficult to tally the number of victims. But on Friday, the government estimated 1.4 million people had been displaced and 400,000 of them are still in need of food and basic necessities.
But now, officials with the U.S. Embassy in Manila say there are significantly more places receiving the goods for distribution, compared to a day ago.
Deputy Chief of Mission Brian Goldbeck told reporters supply drops are being made in at least 16 locations in the worst-hit island provinces.
“So if you think of it as a hub-and-spoke arrangement those are being pushed out and then from those endpoints even more is being pushed out from there," Goldbeck explained. " I think there is good distribution now that is happening from many areas that we have not seen before.”
Some 20 helicopters arrived on the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, which docked on Thursday night at Samar Province to the east of Leyte. Goldbeck said they will be used to deliver food, medicines and other supplies to inaccessible areas. Philippine choppers are also dropping off goods.
But despite the reports of progress, the situation in the hard-hit city of Tacloban remains challenging. International humanitarian organizations expressed dismay that they still have not been able to reach beyond certain points of the city.
Orla Fagan, a U.N. Humanitarian Affairs public information officer in Manila, expressed worry about a dwindling fuel supply for vehicles transporting aid. But she said that was just one concern.
“There is also issues of no power. I don’t know what the situation is this morning," Fagan admitted. "There is communications issues. The mobile phones are coming up and going down at the moment… you’ve got the roads covered, as well, still in debris.”
The Philippine government has said this week the crisis has been one of the largest “logistics and relief operations ever taken on by the country.” On Friday officials defended the aid effort despite the failures to reach many storm survivors.
"In a situation like this nothing is fast enough," Interior Secretary Mar Roxas told reporters in Tacloban. "The need is massive, the need is immediate. You cannot set anybody aside because everybody, all at the same time is hungry, all at the same time have no water, all at the same time have no communication, no power. So this is, the challenge here is almost like D-Day, Normandy."
On Friday morning officials said the government had reached its goal of handing out food packs to the 40 remote locations around Tacloban in a 24-hour period. These are good for at least two days, possibly three. But that means similar food runs will have to continue in order to feed hundreds of thousands of hungry, homeless people.