Relief Proceeds Slowly in Philippines, Where a Death Toll Remains Unclear

8 years, 10 months ago - November 17, 2013
TANAUAN, the Philippines — For Teoderico Canales and her family, survival after Typhoon Haiyan has literally meant living in a pigsty. Their only water comes from a pump next to a small river where many people drowned.

Fast-moving walls of seawater gutted the ground floors of houses here as the storm surge reached the ceilings. Powerful winds shattered practically every upstairs window and tore away roofs, sending them flying through the night.

With no better options, Mrs. Canales has covered the pigsty with a large blue and red tarpaulin. The pigsty, a rectangular area about nine feet by five feet and ringed with crude concrete walls about three feet high, is the temporary home for Mrs. Canales, her husband and her five children.

 “It is so shameful: It is only for one pig normally, and now it is occupied by seven people — it is so difficult,” she said, cradling her youngest, a 17-month-old girl named Hanna.

While the typhoon’s one-two punch of wind and storm surge hit outlying towns like Tanauan with as much force as it did Tacloban, some of the smaller communities seem to be faring better, at least here to the south of the city. Tacloban descended into violence for nearly a week after the typhoon, but in other towns here in the east-central Philippines, people seemed more likely to band together than point guns at one another.

Mayor Matin Petilla of Palo said that after the typhoon, she ordered the establishment of police checkpoints with the town’s three neighbors — Tacloban to the north, Tanauan to the south and Santa Fe to the west. She told the police to focus on preventing the looting in Tacloban from spreading into her town.

Tacloban might have been hit hardest by the typhoon. But mile after mile of homes and businesses in towns and villages up and down the east-central coast of the Philippines were destroyed as well.

Cross the city line from Tacloban to Palo and the difference is quickly apparent. Bloated, discolored corpses still lie along the sides of the road in Tacloban, but are nowhere to be seen in Palo or in the next town to the south, Tanauan.

Both have confirmed typhoon-related death rates, as a share of their population, higher than Tacloban’s. But they have been able to bury at least the visible corpses, although more remain under huge piles of building debris. Sporadic looting, residents and officials said, has been limited more to grocery stores and pharmacies than in Tacloban, where appliance and furniture stores and the homes of the affluent were targeted.

The relief effort in Tacloban proceeded slowly, as did the effort to collect and identify bodies. The mayor, Alfred S. Romualdez, said Friday that the city had 801 confirmed dead. He apologized for repeated errors in Tacloban fatalities reported earlier. On Thursday the city’s official notice board said 2,000 deaths had been confirmed, which was doubled to 4,000 early Friday, and the mayor said both figures were wrong.

The United Nations has also had trouble reporting on the total death toll, with its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reporting 3,600 deaths on Friday, a day after saying there had been 4,460. John Ging, the office’s operations director, apologized Friday for the discrepancy, saying the higher number had been an estimate, not a count of actual confirmed deaths.

At a news briefing at United Nations headquarters in New York, Mr. Ging and Ted Chaiban, the director of emergency programs at Unicef, said 13 million people had been affected by the typhoon, including five million children. They said the pace of emergency aid arrival was steadily improving.

 “Over all, it’s clear that much more needs to be done,” Mr. Chaiban said. “But it’s also clear that we’re starting to open up the logjam. And I think we can say we’re beginning to turn the corner.”

In Tacloban, the dead are being taken to a mass grave in a public cemetery on the outskirts of the city. Mr. Romualdez said just 10 percent to 15 percent of the dead had been identified.

He said the delivery of the first cycle of food packets, which are supposed to be six pounds of rice and some canned goods for each family, was expected to be completed Friday.

Some stalls have begun to sell fresh meat, and two or three gas stations have opened in Tacloban, which had a population of 235,000 before the storm. Mr. Romualdez estimated that 30 percent to 40 percent of the population had since left.

Mr. Romualdez reacted sharply at a news conference Friday to a question portraying the rescue effort as chaotic. “There’s no disarray in the coordination,” he said. “There are problems in resources. We lack resources. There’s no problem in coordination.”

In Tanauan, there are already 1,200 confirmed dead and almost 2,000 missing out of a population of almost 50,000, Tita Cavite, the municipal treasurer, said as she directed relief operations at City Hall. Fewer than 100 missing people have been found in the past week, raising fears about the fate of the rest, she said.

A visibly poorer town than Palo or Tacloban even before the typhoon, Tanauan had been able to send emergency food rations to 22 of its 54 neighborhoods.

“Our priority need is to create shelter” because so many are homeless, Mrs. Cavite said. “We want an engineering brigade to clear the roads.”

In Palo, there are 815 dead out of 62,727 people. Reliable figures for the missing are still being compiled, but they appear to be much lower than those for the dead. Ms. Petilla, the mayor, said the death toll would rise as marshy areas where bodies were washed in by the storm surge gradually drained or dried out, and as destroyed homes were removed.

The town looks as if a tornado hit it, with trees snapped off a dozen feet above the ground and the tops of buildings torn away.

Ms. Petilla said that quick local government action, like the deployment of police officers to warehouses and stores as well as to the border with Tacloban, had helped stabilize the town. “We were isolated,” she said. “No people could come in or out of town, so we were on our own.”

But in the days that followed, Palo may have benefited from a personal connection at the national level: Ms. Petilla’s son, Jericho, is the secretary of energy for the Philippines. “Palo is well taken care of,” Ms. Petilla said. “I can get more aid; I have a direct line to the center.”

By contrast, Mr. Romualdez is a nephew of Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, and the Marcos and Romualdez clans are clearly in the national political opposition.

In destitute Tanauan, conditions are somewhat grimmer than in Palo, although still more peaceful than in Tacloban. Mrs. Canales said the pigsty was to some extent washed out by the storm surge, but still had to be scrubbed. She said that she had received only a single family food ration consisting of 4.4 pounds of rice and canned sardines.

She was nervous about her family’s drinking water from the nearby pump, but said there was no clean water. “We’re forced to drink it or we would die of thirst,” she said.

The family survived the storm by going to an evacuation center in a gym and holding the younger children up in the deep water to save their lives. “I was so scared, and I don’t know how to swim,” said Madelyn Canales, 6, who has developed a low-grade fever. “Now, whenever I hear the sound of rain, I get scared.”


Text by The New York Times

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