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Desperate survivors seek to flee typhoon zone

Beacon Journal wire services

TACLOBAN, PHILIPPINES: Thousands of typhoon survivors swarmed the airport here today seeking a flight out, but only a few hundred made it, leaving behind a shattered, rain-lashed city short of food and water and littered with countless bodies.

Four days after the typhoon struck, only a trickle of assistance has made it to affected communities along the eastern seaboard, which bore the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan. Authorities estimate it killed 10,000 or more, although the official death toll remained at 942. Millions are without shelter or food.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino declared a state of calamity Monday to speed aid to communities ravaged by the typhoon as a fresh storm approached the area.

The storm affected almost 9.7 million people, according to authorities, and 22 countries have pledged assistance. Soldiers were dispatched to prevent looting as survivors scoured for food.

“In the coming days, be assured — help will reach you faster and faster,” Aquino said. “The delivery of food, water and medicines to the most heavily affected areas is at the head of our priorities.”

Tropical depression Zoraida was 119 miles east of Davao City in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, with maximum sustained winds of 34 mph, according to a report from the Philippine weather bureau.

Thirty areas remain under the lowest storm alert signal, with winds of up to 37 mph expected over the next 36 hours, it said, and rainfall may be moderate to heavy.

City of chaos

Tacloban, a city of about 220,000 people on Leyte island, bore the full force of the typhoon’s winds and the tsunami-like storm surges. Most of the city is in ruins, a tangled mess of destroyed houses, cars and trees. Malls, garages and shops have all been stripped of food and water by hungry residents.

Two Philippine Air Force C-130s arrived at its destroyed airport just after dawn, along with several commercial and private flights. The planes were greeted by chaos as more than 3,000 people who camped out at the building surged onto the tarmac past a broken iron fence to get on the aircraft. Just a dozen soldiers and several police held them back.

Mothers raised their babies high above their heads in the rain, in hopes of being prioritized. One lady in her thirties lay on a stretcher, shaking uncontrollably. Only a small number managed to board.

“I was pleading with the soldiers. I was kneeling and begging because I have diabetes,” said Helen Cordial, whose house was destroyed in the storm. “Do they want me to die in this airport? They are stone hearted.”

Most residents spent Monday night under pouring rain wherever they could — in the ruins of destroyed houses, in the open along roadsides and shredded trees. Some slept under tents brought in by the government or relief groups.

“Help. SOS. We need food,” read a message painted by a survivor in large letters on Tacloban’s port, where water lapped at the edge.

Local doctors said they were desperate for medicines. Beside the ruined airport tower at a small makeshift clinic with shattered windows, army and air force medics said they had treated around 1,000 people since the typhoon for cuts, bruises, lacerations, deep wounds.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Air force Capt. Antonio Tamayo. “We need more medicine. We cannot give anti-tetanus vaccine shots because we have none.”

Aid on the way

International aid groups and militaries are rushing assistance to the region, but little has arrived yet.

The Defense Department has dispatched about 215 U.S. troops to provide initial assessments of the support required, according to statements from the Marine Corps.

A United States aircraft carrier was steaming toward the eastern Philippines today to add muscle to relief efforts. The USS George Washington was expected to arrive off the coast in about two days, according to the Pentagon. A similar-sized U.S. ship, and its fleet of helicopters capable of dropping tons of water daily and evacuating wounded, was credited with saving scores of lives after the 2004 Asian tsunami.

The U.N. refugee agency planned an emergency airlift Wednesday to deliver blankets, mosquito nets, soap and underwear, as well as a team to provide protection against the looting and mobbing of relief trucks reported in some areas.

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.


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