Wednesday, January 17, 2018

U.S. ships arrive to help typhoon survivors in Philippines

TACLOBAN, Philippines — Workers in this typhoon-shattered city buried scores of unidentified bodies in a hillside mass burial Thursday as desperately needed aid began to reach some of the half-million people displaced by the disaster.

Dozens more bodies were lined up in bags outside Tacloban City Hall waiting to be taken to burial sites. Six days after Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines, many of the dead were still lying along roads as survivors searched for bodies buried under the rubble.

The USS George Washington aircraft carrier arrived near the Gulf of Leyte on Thursday and will set up a position off the coast of Samar Island to assess the damage and provide medical and water supplies, the 7th Fleet said in a statement.

The carrier and its strike group brought 21 helicopters to the area, which can help reach the most inaccessible areas.

Authorities say 2,357 people have been confirmed dead in the disaster, but that figure is expected to rise, perhaps significantly.

In the city's first mass burial, scores of bodies in black bags were lowered into graves without any prayers being said.

John Cajipe, 31, and three teenage boys who work at the local cemetery placed the first body in the grave's right hand corner.

The second body followed two minutes later, carefully placed alongside the first. And so on, until scores of bodies — all unidentified — filled the grave.

"I hope this is the last time I see something like this," said Mayor Alfred Romualdez. "When I look at this it just reminds me of what has happened from the day the storm hit until today."

Officials said efforts had been made to identify the bodies so families have a chance of finding out what happened to their loved ones in the days and weeks to come. It was not immediately clear whether this included DNA testing.

In addition to the George Washington, about a half dozen other U.S. ships — including a destroyer and two huge supply vessels — are already in the area, along with two P-3 aircraft that are being used to survey the damage from the sky so that planners can assess where aid is most needed, the 7th Fleet said.

"We are operating 24-7," said Capt. Cassandra Gesecki, a spokeswoman for the Marines, who have set up an operations hub near Manila's international airport.

Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian chief who toured Tacloban on Wednesday, said some 11.5 million people have been affected by the typhoon, which includes people who lost their loved ones, were injured, and suffered damage to their homes, business or livelihoods.

"The situation is dismal. . . . Tens of thousands of people are living in the open . . . exposed to rain and wind," she told reporters in Manila on Thursday.

Aid has been slow to reach the 545,000 people displaced by the storm that tore across several islands in eastern Philippines last Friday. Most of the casualties occurred in Leyte province, its capital Tacloban, and Samar island.

Amos said the immediate priority for humanitarian agencies over the next few days is to transport and distribute high-energy biscuits and other food, tarpaulins, tents, clean drinking water and basic sanitation services.

"I think we are all extremely distressed that this is Day 6 and we have not managed to reach everyone," she said.

     
   
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