US carrier steps up Philippines relief operation

2013-11-15 09:57
(Liam Kennedy, AFP)

(Liam Kennedy, AFP)

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Tacloban - A US aircraft carrier sent mercy flights into the typhoon-smashed Philippines on Friday, transporting food and supplies desperately needed for survivors still begging for help in wreckage strewn with bodies one week after the disaster.

The USS George Washington is "flying missions off the east coast of Samar", Philippine Air Force spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Miguel Okol told AFP, adding that the flights were heading to Guiuan - the first town to be hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan.

American soldiers were unloading aid from aircraft at the airport in the devastated city of Tacloban, on central Leyte, where thousands are feared to have died when Haiyan's record winds sent tsunami-like waves tearing across the island.

Aid has been excruciatingly slow to get through to hungry and homeless survivors, with United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos admitting that the delivery of supplies had not been quick enough.

The UN and the Philippines government are in dispute over the extent of the death toll. The world body says 4 460 have been confirmed dead - but the Philippines' National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council insisted the number remained at 2 360.


The USS George Washington Strike Group - with 5 000 sailors on the huge carrier alone, and seven other ships - arrived on Thursday with badly needed equipment, manpower and expertise, giving some hope to survivors that the delivery of aid would speed up.

"I heard there are now American planes," 28-year-old Merly Araneta said.

"I will try to make it to the airport. But I have only eaten twice in five days and drank rainwater collected in a plastic cup. I am so tired."

At Tacloban airport US aircraft were coming in two at a time. American servicemen were driving trucks loaded with aid and appeared to be acting quasi-independently, with a large part of the airfield to themselves.

Hundreds of people were also standing in searing heat trying to get on planes out of the stricken city.

Ships and planes from Asia-Pacific nations and Europe are converging on the Philippines, bearing food, water, medical supplies, tents and other essentials.

Prime Minister David Cameron dispatched the biggest vessel in Britain's own fleet, a helicopter carrier, while heavy transport planes carrying equipment such as forklift trucks have already arrived.

Rotten flesh

Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez said he was "very grateful" for all the help. But on the city's streets, the sense of want is gnawing for a population in dire need of the basics of life.

Alita Nabelga, aged 81, said water was starting to get through but that there was no food or medicine.

"It is so hard for us here. There is nothing to eat. There is water that is rationed. But it would be better if there was food," she added at an evacuation centre where around 1 000 people crowded inside.

"Where are the Americans? Are they bringing us rice?" she said hopefully.

A US embassy official told AFP that the carrier's strike group "is delivering supplies".

"We're setting up a significant presence but it is still under the direction of the Philippines," he said.

Aid agencies welcomed the USS George Washington's arrival.

"It will probably stabilise the situation for people in remote communities who remain isolated," Red Cross spokesperson Patrick Fuller said.

"What is critical is that we humanitarian organisations have good co-operation with the military. It's crucial that good civil-military operations work effectively. We have experience in places like Haiti where there was some communication gap."

AFP journalists saw dead bodies still lying by the side of the road on Friday, and the smell of rotten flesh still hung in the air, however most had been put in bags ready for mass burial.

While the retrieval of the dead gets going, there are growing fears for the health of those who survived.

The World Health Organisation says there are significant injuries that need to be dealt with - open wounds that can easily become infected in the sweltering tropical heat.

Experts warn that a reliable supply of clean drinking water is vital if survivors are to avoid diarrhoea, which can lead to dehydration and death, especially in small children.

News24's Lauren Hess is travelling to the Philippines with Gift of the Givers. Follow her for updates on the rescue mission.

Lauren’s twitter handle is: @LaurenH_ZA


Read more on:    who  |  red cross  |  david cameron  |  philippines  |  typhoon haiyan

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