MANILA/TACLOBAN PHILIPPINES – Thousands of typhoon survivors swarmed the airport in the devastated Philippine city of Tacloban on Tuesday 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.
Just a dozen soldiers and several police held the crowd back as mothers raised their babies high above their heads in the rain, in hopes of being prioritized.
The struggle at Tacloban’s airport was one of countless scenes of misery in the eastern Philippines since Typhoon Haiyan struck Friday.
Only a tiny amount of assistance has arrived and the needs of the nearly 10 million people affected by the disaster are growing ever more urgent.
The official death toll from the disaster stood at 1,774 on Tuesday, though authorities have said they expect that to rise markedly. They fear estimates of 10,000 dead are accurate and might be low.
The Japanese government said the same day that a total of 27 Japanese nationals living in typhoon-damaged areas had been confirmed safe, while roughly 100 remained unaccounted for.
“Out of some 130 Japanese living on the islands of Leyte and Samar, 27 have been confirmed safe,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.
The top government spokesman also said Tokyo would extend $10 million in emergency aid to provide evacuees with emergency shelters and other necessities through international organizations.
Japan has already sent a medical team to the worst-hit areas as part of its rapid reaction to the disaster. It was also preparing to dispatch 40 Self-Defense Force members to support restoration work.
As local authorities struggled to deal with the enormity of the disaster, the United Nations said it had released $25 million in emergency funds and was launching an emergency appeal for money.
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 the storm. Millions remain without shelter or food.
Tacloban, a city of about 400,000 people, was among the hardest hit.
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.
Local doctors said they were desperate for medicines. Beside the ruined airport control 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 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.”
In the worst-hit areas, bloated bodies lay uncollected and uncounted in the streets and desperate survivors pleaded for food, water and medicine.
Tacloban resembled a garbage dump from the air, with only a few concrete buildings left standing in the wake of one of the most powerful storms to ever hit land, packing 235-kph winds and whipping up 6-meter walls of seawater that tossed ships inland and swept many out to sea.
“Help. SOS. We need food,” read a message painted by a survivor in large letters on the ravaged city’s port.
There was no one to carry away the dead, who lay rotting along the main road from the airport to Tacloban. At a small naval base, eight swollen corpses — including that of a baby — were submerged in water brought in by the storm. Officers had yet to move them, saying they had no body bags or electricity to preserve them.
International aid groups and militaries were rushing assistance to the region, but little had arrived as of Tuesday.
A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier was steaming toward the devastated area to add muscle to relief efforts. The USS George Washington is expected to arrive Thursday, according to the Pentagon. A similar-size 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.S. also said it was providing $20 million in immediate aid.
Britain was also to send a ship and a transporter plane to assist in relief efforts.
Even Vietnam, despite coping itself with a mass evacuation program as a weakened Haiyan swung through its territory Monday, provided emergency aid worth $100,000 and said it “stands by the Philippine people in this difficult situation.”
Delivering on a promise of quick help, about 90 marines and sailors based in Okinawa Prefecture flew into Tacloban aboard two C-130 Hercules transport aircraft Monday, after receiving a bird’s-eye view of the immense scale of destruction across Leyte.
They brought communications and logistical equipment to support the Philippine armed forces in their relief operation.
“We are going to move stuff as they direct, as the Philippine government and the armed forces (ask),” Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, the head of the Okinawa-based 3rd Marine Expedition Brigade, said in Tacloban.
Kennedy’s men were the advance guard of a marine operation that in total will encompass up to nine C-130s plus four MV-22 Ospreys — tilt-rotor planes that can operate without runways — and two P3 Orion aircraft for search and rescue. The Marine Corps later said it was sending a further 90 troops tasked with helping a humanitarian assistance survey team on the ground.