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4:00 pm
Mon November 11, 2013

Aid Groups Struggle To Reach Survivors Of Typhoon Haiyan

Originally published on Tue November 12, 2013 6:08 am

Aid agencies are scrambling to try to get water and food to people in the Philippines who've been left homeless or injured by Typhoon Haiyan.

But reaching some of the areas ravaged by the intense storm is proving difficult. Even when aid can make it onto the islands, it's still not clear what supplies are needed the most.

An estimated 10,000 people are presumed dead and more than 600,000 people have been left homeless by the Category 5 typhoon, the United Nations said Monday.

One of the hardest hit areas is the city of Tacloban. The airport outside the city of about 220,000 has finally opened up, but there's so much debris in the roads that it's hard for relief workers to even leave the airport.

"The route from the airport to the city itself is only 11 kilometers (6.8 miles)," John Ging, with the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said at a press briefing Monday in Geneva. "But it takes a six-hour round-trip journey ... to get from the airport to the city again because of the devastation."

Typhoon Haiyan, which is known as Yolanda in the Philippines, came ashore with sustained winds of almost 150 mph. There are also reports of a devastating storm surge that pushed a huge wall of water inland.

Many places are strewn with dead bodies, Ging says. And the first challenge is to bury the bodies. "But it's not just that," he says. "It's also [providing] clean drinking water for those who are alive. Food is also a big issue.

"Entire areas have been completely and utterly decimated." Ging says. "So keeping [the survivors] alive, as well as dealing with the corpses — they're concurrent priorities."

Various U.N. agencies are sending in emergency teams with aid supplies. Private humanitarian groups also are mounting the largest relief operation since the Haitian earthquake in 2010.

The nonprofit Doctors Without Borders is shipping 350 tons of tents, generators, medical supplies and other gear into Manila on chartered planes from warehouses in Brussels and Dubai.

The biggest challenge right now is trying to assess exactly what the needs are in the parts of the islands hit hardest, says Henry Gray, an emergency coordinator with Doctors Without Borders.

"On huge parts of the island chain, we just don't know what's out there," Gray says. "We know that there are millions of people in the affected zone. We know that there are massive needs. But getting a clear picture is really difficult.

There are reports from some parts of the island of Cebu that 90 to 95 percent of the buildings have been destroyed. Hospitals and clinics were flattened.

Doctors Without Borders is assuming there are a wide variety of medical needs, Gray says. "There will be people with traumatic injuries from flying debris, falling trees, crashing walls," he says. "Then there will be the next phase ... in which people who are not necessarily badly wounded ... succumb because of the unsanitary conditions."

In the coming days, the focus of the relief effort will be to make sure people in the areas hit hardest have access to the bare basics: clean drinking water, sanitation and a roof or tarp to sleep under. The wounded need to be sewn up. The dead need to be buried. Roads need to be cleared.

Then, eventually, agencies and communities can start to think about rebuilding homes, schools and communication towers.

This week is just the beginning, Gray says. "There is a long game here. Getting this part of the Philippines back on its feet is going to take an incredible effort."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Aid agencies are scrambling to reach people in the Philippines who are left homeless or injured by Typhoon Haiyan. Humanitarian officials from the United Nations say that thousands died and millions more were affected. But just reaching the remote parts of the storm-ravaged area is proving difficult. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: John Ging with the U.N.'s Office of Humanitarian Affairs says the Tacloban airport on the hard-hit island of Leyte has reopened but there's so much debris in the roads that it's hard for relief workers to even leave the airport.

JOHN GING: The route from the airport to the city itself is only 11 kilometers, but it was taking a six-hour round journey to get from the airport to the city, again, because of just the devastation.

BEAUBIEN: Haiyan came ashore with winds in excess of 190 miles per hour. There were also reports of a devastating storm surge that pushed a huge wall of water inland. Ging, speaking at a briefing at the U.N.'s headquarters in New York, said that the storm left roughly 660,000 people homeless, and by some estimates, 10,000 people dead. Ging says just burying the dead from this disaster is going to be one of the first major challenges.

GING: But it's not just that. It's also clean drinking water for those that are alive. Food is also a big issue. Again, you know, entire areas have been completely and utterly decimated. So keeping those alive, as well as dealing with the corpses, you know, they're concurrent priorities.

BEAUBIEN: Various U.N. agencies are mobilizing emergency teams to send in aid supplies. Private humanitarian groups are also mounting the largest relief operation since the Haitian earthquake in 2010. The U.S. military is sending helicopters, ships and cargo planes in the region to help ferry in supplies. The State Department says they'll also help with search and rescue operations in hard-to-reach parts of country.

Oxfam, which has a long presence in the Philippines, has sent local staff members out to do surveys of the damage. Mike Delaney, the humanitarian director of Oxfam America, says they're coming back with reports of incredible levels of devastation.

MIKE DELANEY: Some of the reports that we have from our field staff are towns that between 90 and 95 percent of all structures have been leveled.

BEAUBIEN: The Philippines is made up of more than 7,000 islands. Typhoon Haiyan tore right through the middle of archipelago. Some of the areas hit by the record-breaking storm were rural, some coastal, some urban. The capital, Manila, was spared the brunt of Haiyan.

Henry Gray, an emergency coordinator with Doctors Without Borders in Belgium, says the most difficult thing right now is trying to determine exactly where are the hardest hit areas and what are the needs on those islands.

HENRY GRAY: On huge parts of the island chain, we just don't know what's out there. We know that there are millions of people in the affected zone. We know that there are massive needs. But actually, getting a really clear picture so that we can respond is incredibly difficult.

BEAUBIEN: Hospitals and clinics were flattened. Gray says Doctors Without Borders is assuming that there are a wide variety of medical needs.

GRAY: There will be people with traumatic injuries from flying debris, falling trees, crashing down walls. But there will also be the next phase of things where people who are not necessarily badly wounded during the actual incident then succumb to disease following that because of, you know, the unsanitary conditions.

BEAUBIEN: He says in the coming days, the focus of the relief effort is going to be trying to make sure people have the bare basics: clean drinking water, sanitation, something to sleep under. The wounded need to be sewn up. The dead need to be buried. Roads need to be cleared. Eventually, homes, schools, communication towers will need to be rebuilt. Gray says this week is just the beginning.

There is a long game here. Getting this part of the Philippines back on its feet is going to take a huge effort.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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