Typhoon death toll overstated: President
Tacloban, Philippines, November 13, 2013
Philippine President Benigno Aquino said local officials had overstated the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan, saying it was closer to 2,000 or 2,500 than the 10,000 previously estimated, comments that drew scepticism from some aid workers.
The government has been overwhelmed by the typhoon, which flattened Tacloban, coastal capital of Leyte province where several local officials have said they feared 10,000 people died, many drowning in a tsunami-like surge of seawater.
Rescue workers have yet to reach scores of other towns and villages in the path of one of the strongest storms on record, five days after it smashed into the central Philippines.
Aquino, who has been on the defensive over his handling of the disaster, said the government was still gathering information from various storm-struck areas and the death toll may rise. "Ten thousand, I think, is too much," Aquino told CNN in an interview. "There was emotional drama involved with that particular estimate."
"We're hoping to be able to contact something like 29 municipalities left wherein we still have to establish their numbers, especially for the missing, but so far 2,000, about 2,500, is the number we are working on as far as deaths are concerned," he said.
A presidential spokesman said Aquino referred to estimated deaths. Official confirmed deaths stood at 1,774 on Tuesday, with only 84 missing, a figure aid workers consider widely inaccurate.
Some aid workers also expressed skepticism at Aquino's dramatically lower death toll.
"Probably it will be higher because numbers are just coming in. Many of the areas we cannot access," Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, told Reuters.
The preliminary number of missing, according to the Red Cross, is 22,000. Pang cautioned that figure could include people who have since been located. "They report their relatives missing but they don't alert us when they are found," she said.
UNPRECEDENTED DISASTER FOR THE PHILIPPINES
More the 670,000 people have been displaced by the storm and many have no access to food, water or medicine, the United Nations said.
With international aid efforts picking up, relief supplies have begun pouring into Tacloban along roads flanked with corpses and canyons of debris.
Natasha Reyes, emergency coordinator in the Philippines at Médecins Sans Frontières, described the devastation as unprecedented for the disaster-prone archipelago.
"There are hundreds of other towns and villages stretched over thousands of kilometres that were in the path of the typhoon and with which all communication has been cut," Reyes said.
UN aid chief Valerie Amos, who is in the Philippines, called the scale of destruction "shocking".
Aquino has declared a state of national calamity and deployed hundreds of soldiers to control looting in Tacloban, a once-vibrant port city of 220,000 that is now a wasteland.
The local government was wiped out by the storm, said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas. Officials were dead, missing or too overcome with grief to work. Of the city's 293 police officers, only 20 had shown up for duty, he said.
Medical workers are treating the injured at evacuation centres for lacerations and other wounds. But many complain of a lack of food and poor hygiene.
One woman sat on a bench in a hospital in the city, her decomposing 5-month-old baby in her arms, wrapped in a black jacket. The infant was sick before the typhoon. After the storm, she sought medicine in the hospital. There was none. Her baby, she said, convulsed and died.
"It feels like I'm going crazy since I keep thinking how we can solve our problems. We want to go back home, but we can't even if my baby's starting to smell. We just want to go back," she said on ABS-CBN television.
FOREIGN MEDICAL TEAMS ARRIVE
UN officials said getting food, medicine and clean water to the disaster zone were the priorities, along with sanitation and shelter.
The World Health Organisation said teams from Belgium, Japan, Israel and Norway had arrived in the Philippines to set up field hospitals. It said other countries were expected to provide medical teams.
More than 250 US forces were on the ground too, and a senior Marine official told Pentagon reporters he expected that number to grow every day.
"Our priority for supplying aid is potable water, food, shelter, hygiene products, and medical supplies," said Pentagon spokesman George Little.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington will arrive later this week, carrying about 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft. It has been joined by four other US Navy ships.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said the development lender was considering boosting its conditional cash transfer programme for the Philippines.
Rescuers have reached some remote parts of the coast that were previously cut off, such as Guiuan, a city of 40,000 people that suffered massive destruction from high winds but was spared the storm surge that washed over Tacloban. Local officials say 85 people were killed in Guiuan, with 24 missing.
The typhoon also levelled Basey, a seaside town in Samar province about 10 km (6 miles) across a bay from Tacloban. Local officials say 80 people were killed in Basey.
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said the economic damage in the coconut- and rice-growing region would likely shave 1 percentage point off of economic growth in 2014.
The overall financial cost of the destruction was harder to assess. Initial estimates varied widely, with a report from German-based Cedim Forensic Disaster Analysis putting the total at $8 billion to $19 billion. - Reuters