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International aid en route to devastated Philippines

AFP

A US aircraft carrier and British warships will join relief efforts in the Philippines after the country was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, which killed an estimated 10,000 people in the city of Tacloban alone this weekend.

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International aid, including British warships and an American aircraft carrier, were en route to the Philippines on Tuesday to join frantic rescue efforts after the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan, thought to be the most powerful storm ever to hit the country.

Current rescue efforts have been hampered by the extensive devastation, which is only just emerging five days after the storm hit. As each day passes, the situation of the estimated 10 million people affected becomes increasingly desperate.

While international pledges of relief have been made - the UN released 25 million from its emergency relief fund and 21 countries have pledged aid - it will take time to have an impact. For the victims stranded without food, water, shelter and medicine, that delay is the difference between life and death.

‘We’re still just beginning to understand how widespread the damage is’

Total devastation

The United Nations has confirmed that an estimated 10,000 people were killed in the coastal city of Tacloban, one of the areas hardest hit, adding that it feared the death toll could rise with thousands others still reported missing. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands have been displaced, their homes reduced to little more than debris by winds as strong as 378 kph (235 mph).

As relief efforts got underway on Monday, three days after the storm, it became apparent that the scale of damage was far greater than expected. Entire towns had been levelled in the central Philippines, and survivors in Tacloban told of being swept away by a wall of water about five metres high (16 feet).

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

Slowed by the extensive destruction, rescue workers have struggled to reach affected areas with roads, communications, water and power supplies cut off.

“Relief efforts are being hampered. We were at the army headquarters, the air force space, here in Cebu City earlier and we were speaking to the officers in charge there, and there really was a sense of being overwhelmed by the task ahead of them,” FRANCE 24’s correspondent Ismail Wolff reported from the Philippines’ central Cebu City.

“Of course the United States, the European Commission and others have offered aid, but that aid has still yet to get here. And the issue really that we’re really looking at here is that although the aid in terms of supplies and even manpower has come, at the moment reaching many of these areas is impossible and we’re going to get a clearer picture over the next 24 hours of how widespread the damage is,” Wolff said.

'National state of calamity'

Philippines President Benigno Aquino declared a national state of calamity, which allows the government to set price controls and quickly release emergency funds.

Aquino also sent 800 troops to Tacloban, where looting had broken out. Many typhoon survivors have been forced to scavenge for clean water, food, shelter and medicine, as they remain cut off from aid.

"Staying is not an option"

France 24 reported early on Tuesday that a mob of almost 3,000 people stormed the tarmac at Tacloban’s airport, desperate for places on the only two flights out of the typhoon-wrecked city. Only a few hundred succeeded; the rest were left to fight for survival in an increasingly desperate situation.

Speaking in a nationwide broadcast, Aquino said that the government had decided to focus relief on the country’s Samar and Leyte provinces, which were directly hit by the storm. Aquino also said his administration had set aside 18.7 billion pesos ($432.97 million) for rehabilitation.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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