Aquino visits typhoon area as estimate of storm damage rises

Super Typhoon Haiyan victims receive plastic bags containing rice from an NGO organisation in San Remigio, Cebu, in central Philippines November 17, 2013. — Reuters pic
Super Typhoon Haiyan victims receive plastic bags containing rice from an NGO organisation in San Remigio, Cebu, in central Philippines November 17, 2013. — Reuters pic

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MANILA, Nov 17 — Philippine President Benigno Aquino meets with survivors of Typhoon Haiyan today as progress in reaching more remote parts of the hardest-hit region led to a surge in the estimate of damage caused by the deadly storm.

Aquino, in his second visit since Haiyan slammed into the region on Nov 8, arrived in Guiuan to review aid efforts and meet victims and will also visit Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the storm. Survivors still clog relief centers and Tacloban airport as they seek to flee the area, many complaining that food and water remain scarce in remote parts of the region.

The government’s 6 a.m. bulletin estimates more than 3.9 million people have been displaced by the storm, twice the number published yesterday morning.

Damaged homes surged to 543,127, almost twice yesterday’s initial estimate. About half of those houses were destroyed, the bulletin said. The cost of the damage rose 9.3 per cent to US$236 million (RM756 million).

“Let’s go straight to what you need, so we can respond to them,” Aquino said, interrupting a presentation by Guiuan town officials after his arrival. He asked for specific estimates of the exact quantity of fuel, medicine supplies needed.

Aquino, who presides over an economy that has matched China’s pace as the fastest growing in the region for two quarters, has seen his popularity suffer over the government’s response to Haiyan. Even with Philippine and foreign relief supplies pouring into the area, efforts to deliver the aid remain hampered by gridlock and damaged roads, with large swaths of territory still suffering power outages and a lack of running water.

Reconstruction

“Regaining that popularity will depend on how he handles the issue of reconstruction and rehabilitation,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University, said by phone today.

“He needs to reach out to survivors of the tragedy and reassure them that they can look forward to a semblance of stability and normalcy in the months to come,”

Large crowds seeking to flee still throng the airport at Tacloban as incoming military flights bring in teams of aid workers who are fanning out across the region. Ferries are transporting trucks from Cebu to distribute supplies as work continues to clear roads blocked by debris.

Charity Villas, 30, who lives in Tacloban, said yesterday that so many survivors were still trying to get out of the airport that she traveled three hours in a van with her one- year-old daughter to reach Ormoc, where she was able to board a plane to Cebu.

Looting Food

“To be honest with you, I had to do things that I wasn’t supposed to do. I had to be part of the looters for her to get some milk,” Villas said. “I had to dig through the destroyed pharmacy just to loot and look for a paracetamol, those basic medicines, and I feel so bad that I have not received any assistance from the government. We’ve been waiting and it’s already more than a week.”

The typhoon killed at least 4,460 people, making it one of the deadliest in Philippine history, according to the United Nations. The storm left 12,544 people injured and 1,186 missing, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s 6 a.m. bulletin.

Clarita Lisondra, 41, a resident of Guiuan where Aquino visited today, said 21 relatives, many now homeless, were crammed into a 100-square-foot section of her partially damaged house.

Sleeping on Chair

It’s “very difficult, it’s so hard to sleep. I sometimes just sleep on a chair, she said. ‘‘I can’t lie straight. I don’t know how long it will be, maybe months or years, because they don’t have money to build their houses. We don’t have a job right now, all of us.”

Yesterday the military sent dozens more trucks and personnel to the region with emergency supplies and food. There was a 2-kilometer line of vehicles entering Matnog port to ship material to the area.

Still, road conditions are such that it’s taking two days or longer for trucks with relief packs from Manila to arrive to the hard-hit areas of the central Philippines, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who is overseeing aid preparations in Manila, said yesterday. Aquino targets 1.1 million packs prepared in the Manila hub every week to provide for 275,000 families.

“We have supplies already, our challenge is trucking,” Purisima said.

Medical Aid

Doctors from Medecins Sans Frontieres began treating patients in some storm-hit locations, the group said in a Nov 15 statement on its website. Apart from treating the injured, the group is handling a growing number of people suffering from pneumonia and diarrhea, the group said in the statement.

The USS George Washington, an aircraft carrier with more than 5,000 personnel and more than 80 aircraft, has arrived in the Philippines and is ferrying aid into hard-hit areas. A UK C-17 transport plane with supplies arrived yesterday, with the HMS Illustrious, another aircraft carrier, due to arrive on Nov 25. The USNS Mercy, a hospital ship based in San Diego, is on standby to travel to the Philippines, should the government request more help.

An Australian team treating survivors at Tacloban airport was setting up a deployable 50-bed field hospital able to treat 4,000 people.

‘Barely Enough’

The number of trucks delivering aid to affected areas is “barely enough” even as roads have been cleared of debris, Luiza Carvalho, Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator of the UN in the Philippines said in an e-mail. “There are still logistical difficulties to overcome,” she said.

Foreign governments have been increasing their pledges as the scope of the destruction becomes more clear. The UK committed an additional €30 million (RM155 million) to the relief effort yesterday, bringing its total pledge to €50 million.

Philippine economic growth this quarter may slow to a range of 4.1 per cent to 5.9 per cent as a result of the storm, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said in a mobile-phone message Nov 14. That’s down from an annualized 7.5 per cent in the second quarter.

The government is preparing a reconstruction plan which includes a proposal to boost infrastructure spending to 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product in 2014, from an earlier plan of 3 per cent, Balisacan separately told reporters in Manila on Nov 15. Rebuilding will be “very, very costly,” he said.

The benchmark Manila stock index rose 0.3 per cent on Nov 15, with the peso slipping 0.2 per cent against the US dollar to 43.66. — Bloomberg

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