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Anger grows at slow pace of Philippines typhoon relief

Philippine President Benigno Aquino was under growing pressure Thursday to speed up the distribution of much-needed aid to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan as the UN admitted that its response to the crisis had not been swift enough.


Philippine President Benigno Aquino was coming under growing pressure Thursday to speed up the distribution of much-needed food, water and medical aid to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan as the UN admitted that its response had not been swift enough.

The UN's humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, said the scale of the disaster and the logistical challenges had left some places desperately in need of help, six days after the storm hit.

The USS George, a US aircraft carrier, and its escort arrived off the Philippines’ eastern Samar province on Thursday, carrying 5,000 crew and more than 80 aircraft to help bolster relief efforts.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

"There are still areas that we have not been able to get to where people are in desperate need," she told reporters in Manila. "I very much hope that over the next 48 hours that that will change significantly."

"I do feel that we have let people down," she said.

While international relief efforts have been gearing up, many petrol stations have refused to reopen, denying fuel to the trucks needed to move supplies and medical teams around the devastated region.

A scarcity of trucks has presented grim options, said one local official. “The choice is to use the same truck either to distribute food or collect bodies,” said Alfred Romualdez, the mayor of Leyte, Tacloban’s capital.

“It’s scary,” he told Reuters. “There is a request from a community to come and collect bodies, they say it’s five or 10. When we get there it’s 40.”

Frustration and anger are rising as essential supplies fail to reach their destination. Food and other essentials are piling up at the Tacloban airport, unable to reach those in need.

Downplaying casualties?

Aquino has been on the defensive over the government’s pre-storm preparations given the repeated warnings of its projected strength. He has said the death toll might have been much higher had it not been for the widespread evacuations and other measures put in place before the typhoon hit.

Aquino has also stoked debate over the extent of the casualties by citing a much lower death toll than the 10,000 estimated by local authorities. Official deaths stood at 2,357 on Thursday, a figure aid workers said was expect to rise.

Tacloban city administrator Tecson John Lim told Reuters that Aquino may be deliberately downplaying casualties.

Lim has previously estimated that up to 10,000 people may have died in Tacloban alone.

“Of course he doesn’t want to create too much panic,” Lim said. “Perhaps he is grappling with whether he wants to reduce the panic so that life goes on.”

The preliminary number of missing as of Thursday, according to the Red Cross, remained 22,000. It has cautioned that number could include people who have since been located.

More than 544,600 people have been displaced by the storm and nearly 12 percent of the population directly affected, the United Nations said.

Mass graves

Lim said that some 300 bodies will be buried in a mass grave on Thursday and a larger grave will be dug for a another 1,000 victims.

The government in the city, one of the areas hit hardest by the storm, remains decimated, with just 70 people coming to work compared to its usual 2,500, Lim said. Many were killed or injured, while others have lost family members or were simply too overcome with grief to work.

Lim said 90 percent of Tacloban, a coastal city of 220,000 people, had been destroyed by the typhoon and the wall of seawater that washed ashore.

Only 20 percent of residents were getting aid while houses were being looted because warehouses were empty, he added, while emphasising that these were not acts of petty crime.

“The looting is not criminality, Lim said. “It is self-preservation.”

French medical charity Médécins Sans Frontières (MSF) described a bleak situation in Guiuan, home to some 45,000 people.

“People are living out in the open ... The needs are immense and there are a lot of surrounding villages that are not yet covered by any aid organisations,” Alexis Moens, MSF’s assessment team leader, said in a statement.

The Philippines formally asked longtime ally Washington for help on Saturday, just a day after the storm levelled cities and towns in central areas of the country.

The USS George Washington aircraft carrier – one of eight US ships supporting the aid effort in the region – arrived off the Philippine coast on Thursday, carrying more than 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft. Washington has committed $20 million to the typhoon aid effort.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)


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