Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Philippines: Update on Typhoon Haiyan, Death Toll Rises to 2,000-2,500, US, UK Ships Responding

According to Reuters, the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan's rampage through the Philippines is closer to 2,000 or 2,500 than the 10,000 previously estimated, President Benigno Aquino said on Tuesday (November 12) as US and British warships headed toward his nation to help with relief efforts.

The official death toll stood at 1,774 on Tuesday (November 8).

Philippine officials have been overwhelmed by Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons on record, which tore through the central Philippines on Friday (November 8) and flattened Tacloban, the coastal capital of Leyte province where officials had feared 10,000 people died, many drowning in a tsunami-like wall of sea-water.

President Aquino revealed the lower estimated toll after the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington set sail for the Philippines carrying about 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft to accelerate relief efforts. It was joined by four other US Navy ships and should arrive in two to three days, the Pentagon said.

COMMENT: Relief supplies poured into Tacloban along roads flanked with corpses and canyons of debris as the rain fell again. Rescue workers scrambled to reach other towns and villages still cut off, which could reveal the full extent of the casualties and devastation.

The devastation has been described as unprecedented, a disaster-prone archipelago of more than 7,000 islands that sees about 20 typhoons a year, likening the storm to "a massive earthquake followed by huge floods."

About 660,000 people have been displaced and many have no access to food, water or medicine, the United Nations reported.

Great Britain is also sending a navy warship with equipment to make drinking water from seawater and a military transport aircraft. The "HMS Daring" left Singapore and expects to arrive in two or three days.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said the development lender was considering boosting its conditional cash transfer program for the Philippines in the wake of the storm.

Aquino has declared a state of national calamity and deployed hundreds of soldiers in Tacloban, a once-vibrant port city of 220,000 that is now a wasteland without any sign of a government, as city and hospital workers focus on saving their families and securing food.

Tacloban's government was wiped out by the storm, said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas. Officials were dead, missing or too overcome with grief to work. Of the city's 293 police officers, only 20 had shown up for duty, he said.

Corazón Soliman, Secretary of the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development, said aid had reached a third of Tacloban's 45,000 families. Most of its stores remain closed, either destroyed or shut after widespread looting.

Residents told terrifying accounts of being swept away by a surge of water in city hopelessly unprepared for the power of Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Yolanda.

The overall financial cost of the destruction was harder to assess. Initial estimates varied widely, with a report from German-based CEDIM Forensic Disaster Analysis putting the total at $8 billion to $19 billion.

International relief efforts have begun to gather pace, with dozens of countries and organizations pledging tens of millions of dollars in aid. UN aid chief, Valerie Amos, who has traveled to the Philippines, released $25 million for aid relief on Monday (November 11) from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund.

Rescuers have yet to reach remote parts of the coast, such as Guiuan, a city of 40,000 people that was largely destroyed.