TACLOBAN, PHILIPPINES — Desperately needed food, water and medical aid are only trickling into this city that took the worst blow from Typhoon Haiyan, while thousands of victims jammed the damaged airport Tuesday, seeking a flight out.
“We need help. Nothing is happening. We haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon,” pleaded a weeping Aristone Balute, an 81-year-old woman who failed to get a flight out of Tacloban for Manila, the capital. Her clothes were soaked from pouring rain and tears streamed down her face.
Five days after the deadly disaster, aid is coming — pallets of supplies and teams of doctors are waiting to get into Tacloban — but the challenges of delivering the assistance means few in the stricken city have received help. Officials also were working to determine how many people had been killed, with the country’s president saying the death toll could be lower than earlier feared.
“There is a huge amount that we need to do. We have not been able to get into the remote communities,” U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said in Manila, launching an appeal for $301 million to help the more than 11 million people estimated to be affected by the storm.
“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,” she said. Her office said she planned to visit the city.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said relief goods were getting into the city, and the supply should increase now that the airport and a bridge to the island were open.“We are not going to leave one person behind — one living person behind,” he said. “We will help, no matter how difficult, no matter how inaccessible.”
Tacloban, a city of about 220,000 people on Leyte island, bore the full force of the winds and the tsunami-like storm surges Friday. 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.
The loss of life appears to be concentrated in Tacloban and surrounding areas, including a portion of Samar island that is separated from Leyte island by a strait. It is possible that other devastated areas are so isolated they have not yet been reached.
In Cebu, to the southwest, the Philippine air force has been sending three C-130s back and forth to Tacloban from dawn to dusk, and had delivered 400,000 pounds of relief supplies, Lt. Col. Marciano Jesus Guevara said. A lack of electricity in Tacloban means planes can’t land there at night.
Guevara said the C-130s have transported nearly 3,000 civilians out of the disaster zone, and that the biggest problem in Tacloban is a lack of clean drinking water. “Water is life,” he said. “If you have water with no food, you’ll survive.”
A team from Médecins Sans Frontières, complete with medical supplies, arrived in Cebu island Saturday looking for a flight to Tacloban, but hadn’t left by Tuesday. A spokesman for the group said it was “difficult to tell” when it would be able to leave.
“We are in contact with the authorities, but the (Tacloban) airport is only for the Philippines military use,” Lee Pik Kwan said by telephone.
An Associated Press reporter drove through Tacloban for about 4 miles and saw more than 40 bodies. There was no evidence of any organized delivery of food, water or medical supplies, though piles of aid have begun to arrive at the airport. Some people lined up to get water from a hose, presumably from the city supply.
Doctors in Tacloban said they were desperate for medicine. At small makeshift clinic with shattered windows beside the city’s ruined airport tower, army and air force medics said they had treated around 1,000 people for cuts, bruises, lacerations and 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.”
The longer survivors go without access to clean water, food, shelter and medical help, the greater chance of disease breaking out and people dying as a result of wounds sustained in the storm.