Aid workers struggle to reach victims of Philippines typhoon

MANILA -- Four days after Typhoon Haiyan blew away their homes and livelihoods, most Philippine victims remain in far-flung flooded coastal communities where they so far have been unable to obtain assistance, aid workers say.

The United Nations on Tuesday launched an appeal for $301 million to help victims, while U.S. and British warships headed toward the region.

In its appeal for funds, the U.N. estimated that more than 11 million people have been affected by the typhoon, one of the strongest storms ever to hit land, with 660,000 left homeless. The official death toll passed 1,700 on Tuesday and is expected to rise substantially.


However, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III downplayed estimates that 10,000 or more people may have died, telling CNN that the death toll would more likely be about 2,000 to 2,500 people.

Arriving Tuesday in Manila to coordinate the efforts, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said that money was needed for “food, health, sanitation, shelter, debris removal and also protection of the most vulnerable.’’

Before her arrival, the U.N. released $25 million in emergency funds. Other governments have pledged more than $35 million.

On the hard-hit island of Leyte, there is only one major airport; it’s in the devastated city of Tacloban. Aid workers say that the road from the airport into the city is so clogged with debris, interspersed with the now-putrefying remains of the dead, that it takes three hours to get from the airport into the city center. Roads leading inland are entirely impassable.

“We have not been able to get into the remote communities,” Amos told reporters. “Even in Tacloban, because of the debris and the difficulties with logistics and so on, we have not been able to get in the level of supply that we would want to. We are going to do as much as we can to bring in more.”

Katherine Manik, country director for ChildFund International, said that an aid crew was able to reach the city of Ormoc on the other side of Leyte by boat but couldn’t move far from the dock.

“There is a critical need for fresh drinking water and food, but it is very difficult to get anything in. There aren’t enough boats. There is no electricity. Nobody can even recharge their cellphones,’’ said Manik.

Even in at the makeshift clinic next to the Tacloban Airport, where the Philippine Air Force’s C-130 cargo planes have been making regular runs from Manila, aid workers complained that they have no medicine to treat emergency cases.

“It’s overwhelming,” air force Capt. Antonio Tamayo told the Inquirer Daily News. “We need more medicine. We cannot give anti-tetanus vaccine shots because we have none.”

One difficulty is that the infrastructure of local government has disappeared. Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez told reporters that of 1,300 police, only 100 were coming to work.

Telephones are not working and local radio is out.

One radio anchorman in Tacloban City was drowned as he gave updates on the typhoon from a two-story office building downtown, using generators to make up for the lack of electrical power.

The last anybody heard from him was when the program abruptly went off the air.

The coastal topography of the Philippines might have contributed to the unexpectedly high storm surges, which many witnesses compared to a tsunami.

“The entire country is coastal areas. It isn’t like India. There isn’t much inland. This typhoon made landfall in the Philippines nine times at different locations. You had not just the wind, but the tidal surges and the swelling of water,’’ said Warner Passanisi, the global emergency response coordinator at ChildFund International.

Although there were warnings for days about the typhoon, many people did not evacuate, confident because they had weathered previous storms.

Narcissa Abordo, a 65-year-old grandmother from Tacloban who runs a boarding house, was taking care of her two young grandchildren to help out her daughter, who lives in Manila. She was awakened Friday at 3 a.m. by powerful winds and started to prepare breakfast for her grandchildren.

Suddenly, there was a rushing sound and a “black whirlpool of water,” she said. Abordo passed the children one by one to her boarders, who took them to high ground in the second floor of a neighbor’s house. The water, she said, rose to 13 feet in 10 seconds.

Abordo and her son were swept away by the rushing water. As the the water rose, it slid them past houses -- from one tin roof to another, and they tried to grab onto whatever electric wires they passed. Abordo could not swim. She survived only because her son carried her on his shoulders.

She said she pleaded with her son: “Please save yourself -- I am already old. You can leave me. You are young.” He refused. “I will never leave you,” she recalled him saying.

Mother and son survived the storm, but her grandchildren were not so lucky.

Abordo said she will never understand what happened. She was told that one child got nervous because the water was rising and jumped in. Shortly after, the other child jumped in. The children, she was told, were crying and yelling, “Mama, Mama, Papa ... .”

Her grandson’s body has been found; the granddaughter is still missing.

“But,” said Abordo, “I think she is nearby because I saw her skirt when I walked down a street.”


U.S., Iran trade accusations over hitch in nuclear talks

Preah Vihear temple grounds belong to Cambodia, U.N. court rules

North Korea executes 80, some for minor offenses, newspaper says

Special correspondent DeLeon reported from Manila and staff writer Demick from Beijing. Special correspondent Daryl Dano in Tacloban contributed to this report.