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Typhoon survivors in Philippines struggle for aid

Monday - 11/11/2013, 1:06am  ET

The devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, are seen Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in Tacloban city, Leyte province in central Philippines. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record, slammed into six central Philippine islands on Friday, leaving a wide swath of destruction and scores of people dead. (AP Photo/Toti Navales)
  • Gallery: (105 images)

JIM GOMEZ
Associated Press

TACLOBAN, Philippines (AP) -- Rescuers faced blocked roads and damaged airports on Monday as they raced to deliver desperately needed tents, food and medicines to the typhoon-devastated eastern Philippines where thousands are believed dead.

Three days after the Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the region, the full scale of the disaster -- the biggest faced by the Philippines -- was only now becoming apparent.

The winds and the sea waves whipped up were so strong that they washed hulking ships inland, which now stood incongruously amid debris of buildings, trees, road signs and people's belongings.

Authorities estimated that up to 10,000 people may have died. But the government, stunned by the scale of the disaster, has not given an official death toll yet. Still, officials said after surveying the areas there is little doubt that the death toll will be that high, or even higher.

In Tacloban city, the capital of Leyte province, corpses hung from trees and were scattered on sidewalks. Many were buried in flattened buildings. The entire city appeared to have been obliterated. From the air the landscape resembled a giant garbage dump punctuated by a few concrete buildings that still stood.

Survivors wandered through the remains of their flattened wooden homes looking to salvage belongings or to search for loved ones.

Very little assistance had reached the city, residents reported. Some took food, water and consumer goods from abandoned shops, malls and homes.

"This area has been totally ravaged", said Sebastien Sujobert, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tacloban. "Many lives were lost, a huge number of people are missing, and basic services such as drinking water and electricity have been cut off," he said.

He said both the Philippine Red Cross and the ICRC offices in Tacloban had been damaged, forcing staff to relocate temporarily.

Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday and quickly barreled across its central islands, packing winds of 235 kph (147 mph) that gusted to 275 kph (170 mph), and a storm surge of 6 meters (20 feet).

Even though authorities had evacuated some 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon, the death toll was so high because many evacuation centers -- brick-and-mortar schools, churches and government buildings -- could not withstand the winds and water surges. Officials said people who had huddled in these buildings drowned or were swept away.

It inflicted serious damage to at least six islands in the middle of the eastern seaboard, with Leyte, Samar and the northern part of Cebu appearing to bear the brunt of the storm. About 4 million people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.

Video from Eastern Samar province's Guiuan township -- the first area where the typhoon made landfall -- also showed a trail of devastation similar to Tacloban. Many houses were flattened and roads were strewn with debris and uprooted trees. The ABS-CBN video showed several bodies on the street, covered with blankets.

"I have no house, I have no clothes. I don't know how I will restart my life, I am so confused," an unidentified woman said, crying. "I don't know what happened to us. We are appealing for help. Whoever has a good heart, I appeal to you -- please help Guiuan."

The United Nations said it was sending supplies but access to the worst hit areas was a challenge.

"Reaching the worst affected areas is very difficult, with limited access due to the damage caused by the typhoon to infrastructure and communications," said UNICEF Philippines Representative Tomoo Hozumi.

Even in a nation regularly beset by earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical storms, Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the deadliest natural disaster on record. Its sustained winds weakened to 120 kph (74 mph) as the typhoon made landfall in northern Vietnam early Monday after crossing the South China Sea, according to the Hong Kong meteorological observatory. Authorities there evacuated hundreds of thousands of people, but there were no reports of significant damage or injuries.

Later Monday, the storm was expected to enter southern China and further weaken while dropping torrential rains on the provinces of Guangxi and Hunan. Guangxi officials advised fishermen to stay onshore.

Reports were trickling in, indicating deaths elsewhere besides Leyte Island.

On Samar Island, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 were missing, with some towns yet to be reached by rescuers. He pleaded for food and water, adding that power was out and there was no cellphone signal, making communication possible only by radio.

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