Philippine President Benigno Aquino faced survivors of Typhoon Haiyan today as progress in reaching more remote parts of the hardest-hit region led to a surge in the estimate of the damage caused by the deadly storm.
Aquino, in his second visit to the region in the central Philippines since Haiyan slammed into the country on Nov. 8, toured hard-hit Guiuan and Tacloban where he met with local officials and some of those left homeless by the storm. Thousands of survivors are seeking to flee the area, with many complaining food and water remain scarce in remote reaches.
“They must be prepared, because it’s not a normal typhoon, they have to put the relief in the heart of the storm area so that it is very convenient for them to distribute the relief,” said Pelagio Bustillo, 48, whose family lives in Guiuan. “The relief was in Manila, and Manila was not affected.”
The government now estimates more than 3.9 million people have been displaced by the storm, twice the number published yesterday morning. The number of damaged homes surged to 543,127, almost twice yesterday’s initial estimate. About half of those houses were destroyed, the bulletin said. The cost of the damage rose 9.3 percent to 10.3 billion pesos ($236 million.)
“We will stay here until there’s nothing more left to do,” Aquino told reporters in Tacloban. “We want to shift to rehabilitation as soon as possible.”
Aquino, who presides over an economy that has matched China’s pace as the fastest growing in the region for two quarters, has seen his popularity suffer over the government’s response to Haiyan. Even with Philippine and foreign relief supplies pouring into the area, efforts to deliver the aid remain hampered by gridlock and damaged roads, with large swaths of territory still suffering power outages and a lack of running water.
“Regaining that popularity will depend on how he handles the issue of reconstruction and rehabilitation,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University, said by phone today. “He needs to reach out to survivors of the tragedy and reassure them that they can look forward to a semblance of stability and normalcy in the months to come.”
Large crowds seeking to flee still throng the airport at Tacloban as incoming military flights bring in teams of aid workers who are fanning out across the region. Ferries are transporting trucks from Cebu to distribute supplies as work continues to clear roads blocked by debris.
Charity Villas, 30, who lives in Tacloban, said yesterday that so many survivors were still trying to get out of the airport that she traveled three hours in a van with her one-year-old daughter to reach Ormoc, where she was able to board a plane to Cebu.
“To be honest with you, I had to do things that I wasn’t supposed to do. I had to be part of the looters for her to get some milk,” Villas said. “I had to dig through the destroyed pharmacy just to loot and look for a paracetamol, those basic medicines, and I feel so bad that I have not received any assistance from the government. We’ve been waiting and it’s already more than a week.”
The typhoon killed at least 4,460 people, making it one of the deadliest in Philippine history, according to the United Nations. The storm left 12,544 people injured and 1,186 missing, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s 6 a.m. bulletin.
Clarita Lisondra, 41, a resident of Guiuan where Aquino visited today, said 21 relatives, many now homeless, were crammed into a 100-square-foot section of her damaged house.
It’s “very difficult, it’s so hard to sleep. I sometimes just sleep on a chair, I can’t lie straight,” she said. “I don’t know how long it will be, maybe months or years, because they don’t have money to build their houses. We don’t have a job right now, all of us.”
More than 230 tons of emergency relief have arrived in the Philippines, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres, and delivery is increasingly gaining pace.
Helicopters were being used to drop food in remote areas still isolated by washed out or damaged roads. Yesterday the military sent dozens more trucks and personnel to the region with emergency supplies and food. There was a 2-kilometer (1.24 miles) line of vehicles entering Matnog port to ship material to the area.
Still, road conditions are such that it’s taking two days or longer for trucks with relief packs from Manila to arrive to the hard-hit areas of the central Philippines, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who is overseeing aid preparations in Manila, said yesterday. Aquino targets 1.1 million packs prepared in the Manila hub every week to provide for 275,000 families.
“The government should help us, but the problem is the transportation, so I cannot blame them also,” said Cecil Gallegos, 40, from southern Leyte, who managed to get evacuated to Cebu after four days in Tacloban. “You cannot easily go to to those places.”
In Tacloban, the biggest city in the storm-damaged region with a population of more than 220,000, the water system has been restored, while streetlights will be set up along the main roads in the coming days, army spokesman Captain Amado Gutierrez said in a mobile phone message today. Two government banks will reopen this week, while mobile automated teller machines and stores will be set up soon, he said.
In Guiuan, a town of about 45,000 inhabitants, “every single roof has been blown off,” Dr. Natasha Reyes, emergency coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres, said in an e-mailed statement from the group. The hospital is 50 percent destroyed and the other half is damaged almost beyond repair, and doctors are setting up a tent hospital, the group said.
The group now has 137 foreign staff on the ground and more will be arriving in the coming days.
The USS George Washington, an aircraft carrier with more than 5,000 personnel and more than 80 aircraft, has arrived in the Philippines and is ferrying aid into hard-hit areas. A U.K. C-17 transport plane with supplies arrived yesterday, with the HMS Illustrious, another aircraft carrier, due to arrive Nov. 25.
The number of trucks delivering aid to affected areas is “barely enough” even as roads have been cleared of debris, Luiza Carvalho, Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator of the UN in the Philippines said in an e-mail. “There are still logistical difficulties to overcome,” she said.
Foreign governments have been increasing their pledges as the scope of the destruction becomes more clear. The U.K. committed an additional 30 million pounds ($48 million) to the relief effort yesterday. The U.K. has now made about 50 million pounds in direct contributions, with another 30 million pounds donated by the public, the nation’s embassy in Manila said .
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