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The international effort to aid storm-struck areas in the Philippines has stepped up a gear on Thursday, after six days of being dogged by logistical bottlenecks. But the surge of activity, as relief crews and supplies finally began to stream into the affected areas, starkly highlighted the immense scale of work lying ahead.
Tacloban, a city of 220,000 on Leyte island that has been largely reduced to ruin by the storm, is finally receiving large-scale deliveries of food, water, and medicine thanks to the expanded availability of supply routes. The Washington Post reported from the city today on the first hopeful signs that relief was in sight for thousands of survivors left homeless and hungry in the typhoon’s wake.
On Wednesday, the U.N.’s World Food Program distributed rice and other items to nearly 50,000 people in the Tacloban area. Nearly 10 tons of high-energy biscuits were also delivered to the city on Wednesday, with another 25 tons on the way.
But the arriving aid remains thwarted by the scale of the disaster, and visiting UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos expressed dismay at the “dismal” situation she witnessed. “I think we are all extremely distressed that this is Day 6 and we have not managed to reach everyone,” she told reporters in Manila after touring Tacloban on Wednesday. “Tens of thousands of people are living in the open ... exposed to rain and wind.”
Today's progress offers a glint of hope that the results of the international response will soon be widely felt on the ground. The city’s airport, which had been partially incapacitated by the storm, is now accepting round-the-clock flights – though aid workers are still encountering problems in finding gas for trucks to ferry the supplies from the runway to the city. The land route from Manila to Tacloban city is now open too, bringing an uptick in humanitarian traffic, The New York Times reports:
A Philippine Red Cross convoy of two ambulances, two water tanker trucks, a busload of police officers and six large trucks carrying medical supplies drove into Tacloban on Thursday morning, having driven from Manila, a 22-hour trip. Jennifer Chico, the Leyte Island administrator for the Philippine Red Cross, said that the convoy had left a needed fuel tanker along the way, at least partly because of worries about the security of bringing such high-value cargo into a still-turbulent area.
The international effort is now bolstered by the US aircraft carrier George Washington, which arrived Thursday to begin helicopter operations to deliver supplies. According to a US Navy statement, the carrier and its strike group of seven ships together bring 21 helicopters to help to reach the most inaccessible areas, as well as survey the region for the best way to target aid. The Telegraph reported from Tacloban on Thursday afternoon:
Blackhawk helicopters buzzed back and forth between Tacloban and the USS George Washington's carrier group, which had arrived offshore, delivering crates of food slung beneath their bellies.
As each helicopter load arrived at the city airport, scores of Marines were on hand to direct a fleet of four Osprey aircraft, which collected the aid for delivery to some of the more remote parts of the island.
This incremental progress highlights the daunting task that lies in the weeks and months ahead.
Reporting from Tacloban, the Times quotes the city mayor, Alfred S. Romualdez, as saying that food distribution has reached 101 of the city’s 138 neighborhoods with the rest to be covered on Friday. A ration package included 6.5 pounds of rice and some canned goods, he said. Yet hundreds of residents still face desperate plight:
Walk through Tacloban, and people plead for food, like the family near Santo Niño Church, packed into a crew cab pickup truck for shelter, who cried “We need food” to passers-by.
The Associated Press describes a scene of misery at the Tacloban City Astrodome, a large arena with a solid roof that has helped refugees preserve their lives but which now became a place of suffering yet to be reached by relief workers. The official death toll, which stood at 2,357 this morning, is expected to inch upward as relief crews begin to dig through mounds of rubble – work that has yet to begin in earnest – and as tallies arrive from other regions. And outside of Tacloban and its vicinity, many isolated areas are still awaiting help.
“What we are doing is a little bit late,” Mayor Romualdez told the Times, speaking as the first organized mass burial took place on the city’s outskirts. “I appreciate the boats coming in, the planes coming in,” he said. “But what we need are foot soldiers, times 10 of what you see now.”
As the relief and recovery effort gathers momentum, AP reminds those wanting to help that “money, not stuff” is the best way to make an impact.
How you can donate
As The Philippines begins the process of healing and rebuilding after the devastating Typhoon Haiyan, aid groups are moving quickly to offer everything from safe drinking water to medical care. Here are some of the organizations that are offering help. You can click on the highlighted text for information on how to donate.
1. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Philippine Red Cross are accepting donations and coordinating disaster relief on location. Follow the Philippine Red Cross on Facebook and Twitter for updates.
3. The US Fund for UNICEF is accepting donations to provide children affected by the typhoon with drinkable water, hygiene supplies, food and shelter.
7. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is rushing personnel and supplies to provide medical care in the affected areas. It is accepting donations online.