The top United Nations relief official flew to the Philippines on Monday to help lead the global response to the powerful typhoon that killed thousands and upended the lives of nearly 10 million people in the country's midsection. International aid groups mobilized to rush food, water and sanitation supplies to the victims, a struggle in the face of impassable roads, obliterated seaports and severely damaged airstrips.
The move by the relief official, Valerie Amos, to take more personal charge of the effort came four days after Typhoon Haiyan left a path of destruction across 41 provinces in the Philippines and as the scope of its devastation was only starting to become clear. The storm was believed by some climatologists to be the most powerful ever to make landfall.
In the flattened city of Tacloban, where as many as 10,000 people may have died and corpses were on the streets, rainfall that began late Monday was adding new complications to the relief effort.
Earlier, it took supply convoys three hours just to traverse the 7-mile route into town from the airport, said John Ging, the operations manager of U.N. emergency relief coordination.
Asked if he thought the death toll could rise, he said: "We hope it doesn't get any higher, but we have to be prepared for the worst."
At a news briefing at U.N. headquarters, Ging said Amos, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and the emergency relief coordinator, was expected to arrive in the Philippines today. She released $25 million from a special fund to help pay for immediate assistance and was launching what aides called a flash fundraising drive. At least $35 million in additional aid was pledged by other governments on Monday.
"All the focus is on a rapid mobilization of a very large response," Ging said. "This is quite unprecedented in scale."
The effort led by the U.N. came as the United States significantly increased its assistance to the Philippines, providing $20 million in immediate aid.
The U.S. Agency for International Development said that aid will be used for provision of emergency shelter, food, relief commodities, and water and sanitation.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who had ordered 90 Marines and a half-dozen aircraft to assist over the weekend, on Monday ordered the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and other Navy ships "to make the best speed for the Republic of the Philippines."
The George Washington, which carries 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft, was ordered to depart from a port visit in Hong Kong.