Aid operations gather steam in disaster-hit Philippine region

AP, Bloomberg, Kyodo

Relief operations in the typhoon-devastated region of the Philippines picked up pace Wednesday, but still only minimal amounts of water, food and medical supplies were making it to the hardest-hit areas.

Aviation authorities said two more airports in the region had reopened, allowing for more aid flights.

International agencies and militaries were also speeding up operations to get staff, supplies and equipment in place for what will be a major humanitarian mission.

The damaged airport on Tacloban, a coastal city of 220,000 almost completely destroyed by Friday’s typhoon and coastal surge, has become the major hub for relief work.

A doctor at a makeshift clinic here said supplies of antibiotics and anesthetics arrived Tuesday for the first time.

“Until then, patients had to endure the pain,” said Dr. Victoriano Sambale.

The storm displaced at least 580,000 people across the region, in many cases leveling their homes.

Damaged infrastructure and bad communications links made a conclusive death toll difficult to estimate.

The official toll from a national disaster agency rose to 1, 883 on Tuesday. President Benigno Aquino III told CNN in a televised interview that the toll could be closer to 2,000 or 2,500, lower than an earlier estimate from two officials on the ground who said they feared as many as 10,000 might be dead.

In Tokyo on Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that 103 Japanese living in the worst-hit areas on the islands of Leyte and Samar remain unaccounted for, with efforts to contact them hampered by poor phone connections. He said three more Japanese had been confirmed safe, bringing the total to 30.

In Manila, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said that the body was launching an appeal for $301 million to help the more than 11 million people estimated to be affected by the storm.

“There is a huge amount that we need to do. We have not been able to get into the remote communities,” she said.

“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.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the USS George Washington aircraft carrier and other navy ships to the country. The carrier, which holds 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft, had been in Hong Kong for a port visit, with crew recalled from shore leave and the ship likely to be in the Philippines in a matter of days, the Pentagon said in a statement.

President Barack Obama spoke by phone Tuesday with Aquino to express condolences over the loss of life from the storm and to offer continued U.S. assistance, according to a White House statement. The two leaders discussed “the need for a speedy assessment of what further American resources would be most helpful to assist in the Philippine recovery effort.”

Nearly 250 U.S. military personnel had delivered more than 48,500 kg of relief supplies from the Philippine government and the U.S. Agency for International Development, using MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor and other aircraft, the U.S. Marine Corps said in a statement.