Philippines readies for mass burials as survivors beg

November 14, 2013 6:07 am
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People who survived the wrath of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the central coastal city of Tacloban disembark from a US KC-130 military cargo plane that flew them out of the city to Manila on November 13, 2013/AFP
People who survived the wrath of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the central coastal city of Tacloban disembark from a US KC-130 military cargo plane that flew them out of the city to Manila on November 13, 2013/AFP
TACLOBAN, Nov 14 – Scores of decaying bodies lay in bags outside Tacloban’s ruined city hall Thursday, ready for trucking by overwhelmed Philippine authorities to mass graves, as destitute typhoon survivors pleaded for help of any kind.

Almost 200 corpses – many of them unidentified – were lined up side by side outside the government building almost a week after one of the most powerful typhoons ever to make landfall smashed through the central Philippines, killing thousands.

“There are still so many cadavers in so many areas. It’s scary,” Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez said, adding that retrieval teams were struggling to cope.

“There would be a request from one community to collect five or 10 bodies and when we get there, there are 40,” Romualdez told AFP, claiming that aid agencies’ response to the increasingly desperate crisis had been too slow.

Six days after Super Typhoon Haiyan unleashed its fury, President Barack Obama urged Americans to dig deep in donations to their former Asian colony. US officials said relief channels were slowly opening up as an aircraft carrier leads a small armada of warships steaming towards the Philippines.

But on the ground, aid is still not getting through to the hungry and thirsty battling to survive the aftermath.

Sick or injured people lie helplessly among the ruins of buildings, while those with the energy try to leave a place that resembles hell.
“The situation is dismal,” conceded UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos, who visited Tacloban on Wednesday.

“Those who have been able to leave have done so. Many more are trying. People are extremely desperate for help,” she told reporters in Manila.

“We need to get assistance to them now. They are already saying it has taken too long to arrive. Ensuring a faster delivery is our… immediate priority.”

Efren Nagrama, area manager at the civil aviation authority, said conditions were “very dire now” as he surveyed the filthy stream of humanity at Tacloban’s battered airport clamouring to get a flight out.

“You see hundreds coming to the compound every day. People who have walked for days without eating, only to arrive here and be made to wait for hours or days under the elements,” he said.

“People are pushed to the tipping point – they see relief planes but cannot get to the food nor get a ride out. There is chaos.”

Mayor Romualdez said the people of Tacloban needed an “overwhelming response” from aid organisations and the government.

“We need more manpower and more equipment,” Romualdez pleaded.

“I cannot use a truck to collect cadavers in the morning and then use it to distribute relief goods in the afternoon,” he added.
“Let’s get the bodies out of the streets. They are creating an atmosphere of fear and depression.”

Romualdez said the plan was to start mass burials in the nearby village of Basper Thursday, a day after attempts to lay to rest some of Haiyan’s victims were abandoned when gunshots halted a convoy travelling towards a communal grave.

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