First trickle of aid arrives in Philippines

President declares ‘state of national calamity’ and considers imposing martial law

New-born baby Bea Joy is held as mother Emily Ortega (21) rests after giving birth at an improvised clinic at Tacloban airport yesterday. Bea Joy was named after her grandmother Beatrice, who is missing following the onslaught of typhoon Haiyan. Photograph: Bullit Marquez/AP Photo

New-born baby Bea Joy is held as mother Emily Ortega (21) rests after giving birth at an improvised clinic at Tacloban airport yesterday. Bea Joy was named after her grandmother Beatrice, who is missing following the onslaught of typhoon Haiyan. Photograph: Bullit Marquez/AP Photo

Tue, Nov 12, 2013, 01:00


The first trickle of aid began to arrive in regions of the Philippines devastated by typhoon Haiyan yesterday as the country’s president, Benigno Aquino, declared “a state of national calamity” and said he was considering imposing martial law.

Two US marine C-130 cargo aircraft arrived in Tacloban, the coastal city where almost every building was destroyed by the typhoon, and began distributing emergency items at the start of an aid effort involving dozens of countries and agencies.

While the confirmed death toll remains at 942, the expectation is that the final tally could exceed 10,000, with a single mass grave in Tacloban reportedly containing 500 bodies and hundreds of others still scattered in streets, trees and buildings.


Total devastation
“The situation is bad, the devastation has been significant. In some cases the devastation has been total,” Philippines cabinet secretary Rene Almendras told reporters in Manila.

Conditions in Tacloban, on Leyte island, have so far been the most widely documented. The commander of the US marine contingent, Brig Gen Paul Kennedy, said: “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.”

Reports are coming in of similar devastation in other towns, some still largely cut off from communication. As well as Leyte, typhoon Haiyan also tore across Samar island, to the east, and the upper tip of Cebu, to the west.

Col John Sanchez of the Philippines armed forces posted aerial photographs of destruction in Guiuan, a town of about 40,000 people on the southeast coast of Samar, where Haiyan first made landfall.

“The only reason why we have no reports of casualties up to now is that communications systems are down,” he said.

“One hundred per cent of the structures either had their roofs blown away or sustained major damage.”

The mayor of Giporlos, further north on Sarar, rode for eight hours by motorbike to seek help following the “total destruction” of his coastal town of 12,000 people. In a video posted online, he said at least 95 per cent of it had been damaged.


Confirmed dead
Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office in Samar said 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 missing. An Oxfam team that reached the far north of Cebu reported almost complete destruction there.

With winds weakening to about 120km/h (75mph), Haiyan, now a tropical storm, made landfall in north Vietnam early yesterday.

Authorities evacuated hundreds of thousands but there were no reports of significant damage or injuries.

However, reports in southern China said two sailors died and five were missing after waves tore a boat from its mooring in Hainan.

In the Philippines the aid effort is both enormous in scale – according to the United Nations about 4.5 million people have been affected, with more than 600,000 displaced – and fraught with complications, with roads blocked and most ports and airports closed.

Co-ordinating the aid effort will be a major challenge. The international response to the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 was plagued by confusion, prompting aid agencies to say people died needlessly.

Leonard Doyle, from the International Organisation for Migration in Manila, said a repeat was unlikely here.

“You have a government that is coherent and which works well with donors. The wild card is the sheer extent of the disaster.”– (Guardian service)