Destruction in Philippines staggering
TACLOBAN, Philippines — Bloated bodies lay uncollected and uncounted in the streets, and desperate survivors pleaded for food, water and medicine as rescue workers took on a daunting task on Monday in the typhoon-battered islands of the Philippines. Thousands were feared dead.
The hard-hit city of Tacloban resembled a garbage dump from the air, with only a few concrete buildings left standing from one of the most powerful storms to ever hit land, packing 147-mph winds and whipping up 20-foot walls of seawater that tossed ships inland and swept many out to sea.
“Help. SOS. We need food,” read a message painted by a survivor in large letters on the ravaged city's port, where water lapped at the edge.
There was no one to carry away the dead, which lay rotting along the main road from the airport to Tacloban, the worst-hit city along the country's remote eastern seaboard.
At a small naval base, eight swollen corpses — including that of a baby — were submerged in water brought in by the storm. Officers had yet to move them, saying they had no body bags or electricity to preserve them.
Authorities estimated the typhoon killed 10,000 or more people, but with the slow pace of recovery, the official death toll three days after the storm made landfall remained at 942.
However, with shattered communications and transportation links, the final count was likely days away, and presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said “we pray” it does not surpass 10,000.
“I don't believe there is a single structure that is not destroyed or severely damaged in some way — every single building, every single house,” Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy said after taking a helicopter flight over Tacloban, the largest city in Leyte province.
Authorities said at least 9.7 million people in 41 provinces were affected by the typhoon, known as Haiyan elsewhere in Asia but called Yolanda in the Philippines. It was likely the deadliest natural disaster to beset this poor Southeast Asian nation.
“Please tell my family I'm alive,” said Erika Mae Karakot as she stood among people waiting for aid. “We need water and medicine because a lot of the people we are with are wounded. Some are suffering from diarrhea and dehydration due to shortage of food and water.”
Philippine soldiers were distributing food and water, and assessment teams from the United Nations and other international agencies were seen Monday for the first time. The U.S. military dispatched food, water, generators and a contingent of Marines to the city, the first outside help in what will swell into a major international relief mission.
“Imagine America, which was prepared and very rich, still had a lot of challenges at the time of Hurricane Katrina, but what we had was three times more than what they received,” said Gwendolyn Pang, the group's executive director.
Emily Ortega, 21 and about to give birth, said she clung to a post to survive after the evacuation center she fled to was devastated by the 20-foot storm surge. She reached safety at the airport, where she gave birth to a baby girl, Bea Joy Sagales, whose arrival drew applause from the military medics who assisted.
The wind, rain and coastal storm surges transformed neighborhoods into twisted piles of debris, blocking roads and trapping decomposing bodies. Cars lay upended among flattened homes, and bridges and ports were washed away.
“In some cases, the devastation has been total,” said Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras.