Philippines declares state of calamity

Reuters, TACLOBAN, Philippines

Tue, Nov 12, 2013 - Page 1

Dazed survivors yesterday begged for help and scavenged for food, water and medicine after a massive typhoon killed an estimated 10,0000 in the central Philippines.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino declared a state of national calamity and deployed hundreds of soldiers in the coastal city of Tacloban to quell looting.

The huge scale of death and destruction from the storm on Friday last week became clearer as reports emerged of thousands of people missing and images showed apocalyptic scenes in one town that has not been reached by rescue workers.

One of the most powerful storms ever recorded, Typhoon Haiyan leveled Basey, a seaside town in Samar province about 10km across a bay from Tacloban in Leyte province, where at least 10,000 people were killed, officials said.

About 2,000 people were missing in Basey, the governor of Samar province said.

“The situation is bad, the devastation has been significant. In some cases, the devastation has been total,” Philippine Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras told a news conference.

The UN said officials in Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the storm, had reported one mass grave of between 300 and 500 bodies. More than 600,000 people were displaced by the storm across the country and some have no access to food, water, or medicine, the UN said.

Flattened by surging waves and monster winds up to 378kph, Tacloban, 580km southeast of Manila, was relying almost entirely for supplies and evacuation on just three military transport planes flying from nearby Cebu city.

Dozens of residents clamored for help at the airport gates.

In a nationwide broadcast, Aquino said the government was focusing relief and assistance efforts on Samar and Leyte provinces, which acted as “funnels for the storm surges.”

The declaration of a state of national calamity should quicken rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts. It will also allow the government to use state funds for relief and rehabilitation and control prices. Aquino said the government had set aside 18.7 billion pesos (US$433 million) for rehabilitation.

More bad weather was on the way with a depression due to bring rain to the central and southern Philippines today, the weather bureau said.

Residents of Tacloban told terrifying accounts of being swept away by a wall of water, revealing a city that had been hopelessly unprepared for a storm of Haiyan’s almost unprecedented power.

Most of the damage and deaths were caused by waves that inundated towns, washed ships ashore and swept away villages in scenes reminiscent of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Jean Mae Amande, 22, said she was washed several kilometers from her home by the surge of water. The current ripped her out to sea before pushing her back to shore where she was able to cling to a tree and grab a rope thrown from a boat.

“It’s a miracle that the ship was there,” Amande said.

Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded, is estimated to have destroyed between 70 and 80 percent of structures in its path. Bodies litter the streets of Tacloban, rotting and swelling under the sun. People walked covering their noses with rags or old clothes to mask the stench.

Twenty-one countries have pledged to send relief, including Indonesia, the US, Britain, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand and Hungary, Aquino said.

Meanwhile, 13 people were killed and dozens hurt during heavy winds and storms in Vietnam as Haiyan approached the coast yesterday, state media reported.