Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Ma, just let go. Save yourself': daughter cries

Filipinos desperate as death toll climbs

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Survivors carry bags of rice from a warehouse which they stormed due to shortage of food at typhoon-ravaged Tacloban city, Leyte province central Philippines on Monday.

AARON FAVILA / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Survivors carry bags of rice from a warehouse which they stormed due to shortage of food at typhoon-ravaged Tacloban city, Leyte province central Philippines on Monday.

MANILA, Philippines -- Each story is more heartbreaking than the last, tales of the courage and good fortune it took to survive the destruction, balanced in many cases by the last glimpse or word of a loved one who didn't.

President Benigno Aquino III declared a "state of national calamity" Monday in an effort to speed up aid to islands of the central Philippines, ravaged by a huge typhoon. The death toll climbed to 1,774, but was expected to rise to 10,000 or more as bodies were collected and counted, and relief teams reached cut-off rural areas.

One aid official estimated 10 million people are affected by typhoon Haiyan and that between 2 million and 3 million of them are homeless.

Survivors took to the roads or looted shops in search of food and water. The main hospital in Tacloban, the principal city on the island of Leyte, was reported to have been crippled by a storm surge. Many people jammed the airport looking for help or a way out.

"In the Philippines, we really have no point of reference for a storm like this," said Joe Curry, director for Catholic Relief Services. "We've had so many typhoons before but nothing compares to how intense and devastating this is."

A 44-year-old Tacloban high school teacher told reporters how she abandoned her dying daughter in their house, which was razed by the storm.

" 'Ma, just let go. Save yourself,' " Bernadette Tenegra quoted her daughter as telling her. "I was holding her, and I kept telling her to hang on. ...But she just gave up."

Then there was Rogelio Mingig, 48, who told his wife to stay home with their 12-year-old son and year-old daughter because he thought it would be safer. But they were trapped by the rising floodwater.

"We found her embracing the children in one arm and grabbing onto the ceiling with the other," he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Several survivors told of hanging desperately onto posts for hours early Friday as one of the strongest storms on record pushed up water levels.

One of them, 21-year-old Emily Ortega, gave birth to a healthy daughter Monday in a makeshift medical centre at the Tacloban airport. Erika Mae Karakot just wanted to get word out to her family that she was still alive.

Residents described their city as in a state of anarchy, with no functioning government and few police or soldiers to keep order. The mayor of Tacloban, Alfred Romualdez, a nephew of former first lady Imelda Marcos, had to be rescued from his roof.

There were reports of looting, not only of food and drinking water, but of TVs and washing machines.

So far, Aquino has resisted calls to place Tacloban and other cities under martial law. But the president did order hundreds of additional law enforcement officials to the area.

"There are local governments that, due to the strength of the storm, broke down because their personnel and officials also became victims," Aquino said in his address Monday night.

An international relief effort was gearing up, but was a long way from meeting the needs of a region where an estimated 80 per cent of the structures had been damaged or destroyed.

Relief efforts are concentrated in Tacloban, which has the largest airport in the region. C-130 cargo planes made regular flights, but have yet to reach the far-flung disaster areas.

UN agencies, other governments and non-governmental aid agencies offered financial assistance or relief supplies.

U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the aircraft carrier George Washington was being dispatched to the Philippine coast. A carrier positioned offshore will give the U.S. the ability to ferry supplies to isolated towns, though only in small amounts because of the size and number of aircraft that can land on its deck. It will also allow the U.S. to move badly injured aboard for medical care.

"I don't believe there is a single structure that is not destroyed or severely damaged in some way -- every single building, every single house," Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy told reporters after a helicopter tour of Tacloban.

The city of 220,000 lies along the strait separating two islands. It was hit first by the typhoon sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean to the east and later by waves coming in from the west. Most of the deaths were caused by surges of seawater up to six metres high that witnesses say was like a tsunami.

Filipinos and aid workers alike were stunned by the level of destruction.

"We have at least 20 to 26 typhoons a year, especially this time of the year. The storm surge in Tacloban, which is surrounded by water, that was the one thing we were not able to anticipate. ...We never thought the effect would be that big," said Maj. Gen. Raul Gabriel L. Dimatatac of the Philippine air force.

"We've been battered over and over again by natural disasters," said Natasha Reyes, emergency co-ordinator for Doctors Without Borders. "So when I hear about people being so desperate, so stunned, so hopeless, it really tells me just how bad this is."

Days before the typhoon, there had been extensive warnings. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated or reinforced their homes in preparation. But even emergency shelters in schools and concrete government buildings suffered extensive damage.

 

-- Los Angeles Times

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 12, 2013 A11

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