Disaster relief workers pushing through mounds of debris in the worst-hit areas of the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan have recovered hundreds more bodies in recent days, boosting the death toll well beyond 5,000, authorities reported Friday.
The number of confirmed dead in Leyte, Samar and the Eastern Visayas region rose to 4,919 over the last five days, and fatalities nationwide now number 5,209, the Philippine News Agency reported, quoting the head of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Eduardo del Rosario.
An overpowering stench of death hangs over many areas of the central Philippines two weeks after the Nov. 8 storm, indicating that bodies remain hidden beneath overturned cars, collapsed buildings and other debris, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas told journalists at a Manila news conference Friday.
But major roads have been cleared in the main disaster zone, the airport and port at devastated Tacloban are now operating and grocery stores, gas stations and banks have reopened, Roxas said.
The rising death toll, the 23,000-plus injured and 1,582 still missing are “the sad record of Yolanda’s passage through our country,” Roxas said, referring to the monster storm by the name most Filipinos called it.
Roxas added confidently that “the worst is over.”
U.S. Marines who arrived this week with more helicopters, heavy trucks and earthmoving equipment helped clear the Tacloban airport runway, which has allowed international relief flights to ferry in more than a million food packs, Roxas said. The donated food packs include about a two-day family supply of rice, noodles and canned vegetables.
Also on Friday, President Benigno S. Aquino III ordered his Cabinet to speed up rebuilding plans to provide permanent shelter for the 4 million left homeless by the storm that packed winds and a sea surge of historic proportions.
The government also issued warnings for donors, domestic and foreign, to watch out for scammers and corrupt officials looking to take advantage of the flow of money and relief goods, currently pledged at nearly $300 million, coming into the country to aid typhoon victims.
“We would like to warn the public to be vigilant and not fall to this modus operandi by unscrupulous individuals,” the Department of National Defense said in a statement reported by the business publication Journal Online.