14 Nov 2013

US boosts typhoon effort in Philippines

10:14 pm on 14 November 2013

Philippines President Benigno Aquino is under growing pressure to speed up the distribution of food, water and medicine to desperate typhoon survivors. A giant US aircraft carrier arrived on Thursday, enabling helicopter flights delivering aid to be tripled.

The most senior US military commander in the Philippines says the American aid effort for typhoon survivors is being stepped up to an unprecedented level for a humanitarian crisis.

Haiyan - one of the most powerful storms ever recorded on land - hit the coastal Philippine provinces of Leyte and Samar on 8 November. The government has been overwhelmed by the force of the storm which destroyed large swathes of Leyte province, including the city of Tacloban, but has promised that it will reach and help everyone.

Some 11 million people have been affected by the typhoon. Although the official death toll stands at more than 2300, local officials and aid workers fear it could rise much higher.

With images of the suffering flashed around the world, a huge international aid effort has swung into operation, the BBC reports.

Emergency supplies are being airlifted from Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States. But many roads are still blocked in the storm-affected islands and some airports are not ready to receive aircraft.

Marine Brigadier-General Paul Kennedy said the US aircraft carrier George Washington has arrived off the island of Leyte on Thursday, along with its escort ships, enabling the helicopter flights delivering aid to be tripled.

The ship will expand search-and-rescue operations and provide a platform for helicopters to move supplies, the White House said. Two US destroyers are already in the Philippines and other American vessels are expected to arrive in about a week.

The United States has already pledged $US20 million to help victims and the arrival of the George Washington and other ships is seen as a huge breakthrough in helping to get food and water to stricken areas.

US military cargo planes have also arrived, bringing trucks and heavy machinery to help clear the tonnes of debris left behind by the massive storm.

The opening up of a major road route to Tacloban is being described as a game-changer, allowing for more supplies to be distributed, while improvements at the city's badly damaged airport have allowed more goods to pass through.

While international relief efforts have picked up, many petrol station owners whose businesses were spared have refused to reopen, Reuters reports. The mayor of Tacloban said they lack the manpower and vehicles to deliver supplies and to even clear bodies off the streets.

Survivors desperate to leave

Six days after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, many people are still without food, clean water and shelter despite aid slowly arriving, and hundreds are waiting to leave stricken towns.

Widespread looting of rice stocks and other supplies have broken out across the central Philippines, despite the deployment of solders to maintain law and order.

Local authorities said eight people were crushed to death on Tuesday when hungry survivors raided rice stockpiles in a government warehouse in the town of Alangalang, near Tacloban, carting away 33,000 bags of rice. Some residents on the eastern islands dug up underground water pipes and smashed them open.

Hundreds of people waited at Tacloban airport to leave the city on cargo planes. On Wednesday night, Philippine Special Forces held back the crowds, many of whom had walked for hours to reach the airport and then waited for days with little or no food or water. Many people complained that military families were given priority to board the C-130 planes.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees says it is concerned that women and children are open to abuse and exploitation following Typhoon Haiyan. Philippines representative Bernard Kerblat says some are begging on the streets, which is putting them at risk.

Mr Kerblat told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Thursday the commission is aware there is also the possibility of human trafficking following the disaster and is working with the authorities to ensure this does not happen.