TACLOBAN, Philippines – The Philippine government today defended its efforts to deliver assistance to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, many of whom have received little or no assistance since the monster storm struck one week ago.
“In a situation like this, nothing is fast enough,” Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said in Tacloban, most of which was destroyed by the storm one week ago. “The need is massive, the need is immediate, and you can’t reach everyone.”
Government officials have given different death tolls, both actual and estimated, as a result of the storm. Given the scale of the disaster, and infrastructure and communications problems, this is not unusual.
The spokesman for the country’s civil defense agency, Maj. Reynaldo Balido, confirmed early today that the figure had risen to 2,360, hours after the United Nations issued conflicting reports on how many people had died. On the ground in Tacloban, authorities handed out a situation report stating that 3,422 people had been killed on Samar and Leyte islands, the two most affected areas.
Some officials estimate that the final toll, when the missing are declared dead and remote regions reached, will be more than 10,000.
At least 600,000 people have been displaced.
Authorities are struggling to meet their immediate needs.
The pace of the aid effort has picked up over the last 24 hours, according to reporters who have been in the region for several days. Foreign governments are dispatching food, water, medical supplies and trained staff to the region. Trucks and generators are also arriving.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told the Associated Press that armed forces have set up communications lines and C-130 transport planes are conducting regular flights to Tacloban, the capital of Leyte.
“The biggest challenge is to be able to reach out to all the areas and overwhelm them with food and water. There are just a few more areas in Leyte and Samar that have not been reached and our hope is that we will reach all these areas today, 100 percent,” he said.
In Tacloban city, the big challenge is the restoration of power, where many electric posts are down. But it may take some time because of the debris, he said.
A U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, is moored off the coast, preparing for a major relief mission. The fleet of helicopters on board is expected to drop food and water to the worst affected areas. The aircraft carrier will set up a position off the coast of Samar Island to assess the damage and provide medical and water supplies, the 7th Fleet said in a statement.
The carrier and its strike group together bring 21 helicopters to the area, which can help reach the most inaccessible parts of the disaster zone.