BEIJING -- Under fire for what critics say is the slow pace of its typhoon relief effort, the Philippine government Friday defended its handling of what might be the worst natural disaster in recent history.
“In a situation like this, nothing is fast enough,” Interior Secretary Max Roxas told reporters during a visit to Tacloban, the provincial capital that was largely destroyed by the typhoon a week earlier. "The need is massive, the need is immediate, and you can’t reach everyone.”
Roxas said he had only eight working trucks for the city of 220,000, and that the local government was no longer functioning.
“The basic infrastructure of a community normally found in the world has been swept away,” he said.
The Philippines’ main disaster relief agency Friday raised the official death toll from 2,360 to 3,621. In a news conference in Manila, the chairman of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Eduardo del Rosario, took a jab at other agencies, foreign and Filipino, that have given higher numbers, saying that from now on all casualty statistics would come from “one voice.”
The remark appeared to address a new report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid that put the death toll at 4,460.
The Nov. 8 typhoon, known internationally as Haiyan and in the Philippines as Yolanda, is believed to be one of the strongest storms ever recorded.
The death toll for days has been subject to controversy and confusion. A provincial police official who last weekend said that the final toll would likely stand around 10,000 was removed from his post Thursday. International aid officials have endorsed that estimate, although President Benigno Aquino III and other Philippines officials say it is “exaggerated.”
One reason for the confusion is that many hard-hit villages remain out of reach because of debris-clogged roads, leaving many victims unburied and uncounted.
Even in Tacloban, the center of the relief effort, police officials complain there are still bodies littering the streets, as well as in the wreckage of destroyed buildings.
Tacloban Mayor Alfredo Romualdez told the Philippine Inquirer News that he was frustrated by the government’s inability to collect the dead.