By Sunshine de Leon and Alexandra Zavis
Los Angeles Times
MANILA — The scale of the devastation beginning to unfold in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan has stunned relief workers, who estimate that as many as 10 million people were affected by the storm that swept through the central Philippines late last week.
With many coastal areas still cut off from transportation and communications, government officials and relief workers were left guessing Monday as to the full impact of the storm, known as Yolanda by Filipinos.
“Right now we’re operating in a relative black hole of information,” Dr. Natasha Reyes, emergency coordinator in the Philippines for the international medical group Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement Monday. “We know from the very little we can see that the situation is terrible. But it’s what we don’t see that’s the most worrying.”
The official death toll, which stood at 1,774 Monday night, was expected to rise to 10,000 or more, according to officials and relief workers who surveyed the damage from the air.
Between 2 million and 3 million people were believed to have lost their homes, Joe Curry, Philippines representative for Catholic Relief Services, said in an interview. Millions more were left without access to adequate food, clean water or shelter.
“The numbers are just hard to comprehend,” he said.
“It’s turned a lush, tropical island into a wasteland,” Curry said of the island of Leyte, which was among the worst hit. “We’ve had so many typhoons before, but nothing compared to how intense and devastating this was.”
[CNN reported: Aid pledges began to pour in on Monday — $25 million from the United Nations, 3 million euros ($4 million) from the European Union, 10 million pounds ($16 million) from Britain and $10 million from the United Arab Emirates, home to a large population of expatriate Filipino workers. U.N. and U.S. civilian disaster assessment teams were on the scene.
U.S. Marines based in Japan worked to outfit Tacloban’s shattered airport with lights, radar and other gear to allow it to operate 24 hours a day.
The United States also announced that the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and three escort ships have been dispatched to the Philippines to assist in recovery efforts. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the carrier to head for the islands at “best speed” from Hong Kong, where it was on a port visit, the Pentagon said. Two other American vessels, including a supply ship, are already headed for the Philippines, the Pentagon said.
The U.S. Agency for International Development is sending emergency shelter materials and basic hygiene supplies to aid 10,000 families as well as 55 metric tons of emergency rations sufficient to feed 20,000 children and 15,000 adults for up to five days. Both shipments were expected to arrive this week, the agency said.
And British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Monday night that his government was also sending a cargo plane and the destroyer HMS Daring to assist, he said.]
The most urgent needs include not just food and water, but tents and plastic sheeting, aid workers said.
“Imagine rural areas where people live in small villages, where everything is flattened, and there is debris everywhere,” Curry said. “They just need something over their heads to give them shade and give them a place to sleep at night, and right now they probably don’t have that.”
In a country with a long history of natural disasters, Haiyan could rank as the worst ever. President Benigno Aquino III has declared a “state of national calamity.” Relief trucks have been mobbed. Looting and jail breaks have also been reported in some areas.
International aid agencies said they were rushing supplies and personnel to the region. Illustrating the extent of the need, the United Nations refugee agency, which usually focuses on conflict zones, said it was organizing an emergency airlift to the Philippines, sending basic items such as tents, plastic sheeting, blankets, mosquito nets, soap and underwear.
“The level of destruction we’re seeing reported is absolutely staggering,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
Relief efforts so far are concentrated in Leyte’s devastated provincial capital, Tacloban, which has the largest airport in the region. Curry said it would take days to reach people in more far-flung areas.
“You need trucks. You have to distribute items, you have to do it in an orderly manner, and there’s concern that there’s not even functioning government right now,” he said.
Many medical facilities were damaged or destroyed, with much of their equipment washed away and health staff unaccounted for, said Reyes, of Doctors Without Borders.
The Philippines military is providing medical care from the Tacloban airport.
“People are bringing the injured to the airport from the town by motorbike or on foot; it’s a six-hour walk,” Reyes said. “Usually in these types of disasters, the main needs are related to people being displaced from their homes, and the injuries are relatively minor – cuts, broken bones, head wounds. But with so many houses and buildings having collapsed because of the strong winds, we’re expecting to see some significant injuries.”
Mental health needs are also expected to be significant.
“We’ve heard reports that people are walking around aimlessly, completely desperate,” Reyes said. “As a Filipino, I know that we’re a resilient people. We’ve been battered over and over again by natural disasters. So when I hear about people being so desperate, so stunned, so hopeless, it really tells me just how bad this is.”
Philippine Red Cross
World Food Program
The Philippine branch of Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, says that children affected by the typhoon need urgent access to drinkable water, medical supplies, food and shelter. It is accepting donations online as part of an emergency typhoon appeal.
Catholic Relief Services
Catholic Relief Services has dispatched a team to the area affected by the storm, but said travel to the most hard-hit cities and towns was “extremely slow” because of damaged infrastructure and debris-clogged roads. It is accepting donations online.
Save the Children
Save the Children is accepting donations online to respond to the needs of children and families. The group said that 10 percent of each donation will be set aside to help prepare for future emergencies.
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)
The medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders),explains on its website that it has emergency teams in Cebu (the Philippine city with the nearest fully operational airport to the disaster area) and expects “to have a medical team on the ground tomorrow, Tuesday, in Tacloban, a town devastated when the typhoon first struck the coast.”
Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development
The Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development is seeking volunteers and accepting donations to respond to the typhoon’s destruction. Donations are accepted online. It is also posting updates about relief efforts to Twitter.
Gawad Kalinga, a Philippine nonprofit dedicated to fighting poverty, is accepting monetary donations as well as nonperishable goods such as children’s vitamins, rice, kitchen utensils and blankets. The group is accepting donations via credit card through its “give now” page. It is also posting updates on Facebook and Twitter.
The mGive Foundation Philippines Typhoon Disaster Relief Fund
The United States State Department announced a partnership on Monday with The mGive Foundation Philippines Typhoon Disaster Relief Fund, organized by the mGive Foundation, an American 501c3 public charity that collects donations for victims of the typhoon via mobile phone. Wireless subscribers can text AID to 80108 to give a $10 donation, which will appear on the donor’s wireless bill or be deducted from their prepaid balance.
Finding a Loved One
If you are looking for information about a specific person in an area affected by the typhoon, Google has set up a person finder page, which can also be accessed by mobile device or text message. If you have information about a specific person affected by the typhoon, you can also use the person finder page to share it.