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Chaos in Philippines as survivors evacuate

RAW VISION: 1000 survivors forced their way into Tacloban Airport to try and board military planes carrying out relief operations in the Philippines.

PT0M31S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2xf01 620 349

Full coverage: Calamity in the Philippines

Lapu Lapu City, Philippines: As authorities in this typhoon-ravaged nation struggled with a mass-scale relief effort, survivors said they were becoming increasingly desperate, short on food and supplies and terrified about waiting longer.

A few residents of hard-hit areas scrawled signs with a simple message: "Help us."

Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan wait to board a C130 aircraft during the evacuation of hundreds of survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.

Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan wait to board a C130 aircraft during the evacuation of hundreds of survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. Photo: Getty Images

Nearly five days after the once-a-century winds of Typhoon Haiyan gashed the central Philippines, some aid workers say progress has been too slow. Many who want to help are waiting at airports and air bases, hoping to catch rides from the shorthanded Philippine military.

The typhoon cut a path through the middle of the country, directly affecting about 10 per cent of the population. The government's official death tally stood at 1744, but thousands of others are missing and the toll is expected to climb.

Though more than 30 countries have pledged aid so far, the distribution of goods has been held up by a daunting set of problems. Some roads are impassible. Many towns lost their own emergency workers.

A woman carrying a child cries as other survivors of Typhoon Haiyan wait to board a C130 aircraft during the evacuation of hundreds of survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines.

A woman carrying a child cries as other survivors of Typhoon Haiyan wait to board a C130 aircraft during the evacuation of hundreds of survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines. Photo: Getty Images

Some commercial flights into the devastated region were cancelled as another, much milder tropical storm dumped more rain.

In Cebu province, the government is using Mactan Air Base - a former US Air Force facility - as a staging ground for emergency work. But on Tuesday only two of the three C-130 military transport planes based here were operational; the third was waiting to be repaired.

Hundreds huddled in a dark waiting room on the base, hoping for a chance to board a plane carrying relief supplies.

Typhoon survivors jostle to get a chance to board a C-130 military transport plane in the Philippines.

Typhoon survivors jostle to get a chance to board a C-130 military transport plane in the Philippines. Photo: AP

Relatives had camped out for hours, even days, holding plastic bags of supplies - packaged noodles, bottled water, biscuits. Queued up with them on hard plastic chairs were aid workers, eager to assess the needs on the ground and mobilise assistance.

"You see how difficult getting access to the C-130s," said Jorge Durand Zurdo of the Spanish Red Cross, part of a five-person team that hopes to get to Tacloban, a city where 10,000 are feared dead.

Mr Zurdo said his group could set up mobile water treatment plants to address a severe potable water shortage. "We can treat dirty and muddy waters, rainwater, polluted wells, rivers and streams," he said.

Children pack a motorbike's sidecar as they travel along a street in an area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in Leyte, Philippines.

Children pack a motorbike's sidecar as they travel along a street in an area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in Leyte, Philippines. Photo: Getty Images

In the days since Haiyan barrelled through, the scale of the disaster has gradually become clearer. In the first hours, the Philippine government said - cautiously - that the country may have escaped major damage. Then information trickled in from remote areas, telling of hundreds or thousands dead, and others swept to sea.

Aerial photographs taken from helicopters that surveyed the damage showed entire towns - what had been a patchwork of colorful roofs and palm trees - churned and flattened into a brown, wet rot.

Tuesday brought a sharper sense of the battle for survival, as local journalists and news services reached harder-hit areas.

Survivors walk over a collapsed bridge in an area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.

Survivors walk over a collapsed bridge in an area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Photo: Getty Images

Medellin, a town in northern Cebu, has run out of syringes and tetanus vaccines, news organisations here reported. In another town, Tabogon, wet and thirsty children took to the streets with placards saying they needed help, a Philippine journalist said on Twitter. Photos showed survivors using any available materials for shelter. One man rested under sheet metal, held a few feet above the ground by furniture.

Many local government officials who would ordinarily be an integral part of the disaster-relief effort have also been harmed by the typhoon. The Department of Public Works and Highways is trying to reopen roads with the help of local workers who themselves may have lost homes, family members or household possessions, said Rogelio Singson, the department's secretary.

In the small town of Basey, which lost at least 429 of its 50,000 people, buildings were so severely damaged that the local disaster council was rendered "helpless", Christine Caidic, a provincial official, said in an interview with the Philippine television station ABS-CBN.

Survivors collect water from a broken water pipe in an area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.

Survivors collect water from a broken water pipe in an area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Photo: Getty Images

National government operations have started slowly as well, in part because local governments weren't able to quickly report the extent of their needs.

"What we've learned this time is that we have to evacuate the social workers first," so that they could help in assisting the victims later, said Mar Roxas, secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government.

The half-dozen provinces hit most directly by Haiyan's sustained, 240km/h winds are without electricity or mobile phone connections. In some remote areas, relief can arrive only by boat or helicopter. Pharmacies have been swept away, and hospitals gutted. Looters have hauled off medical supplies, according to local media reports.

Survivors wait in line to recieve relief goods in an area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.

Survivors wait in line to recieve relief goods in an area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Photo: Getty Images

The Department of Social Welfare and Development regional office, in Cebu, says it is trying to assemble 50,000 family meal packs per day - rations of rice and canned goods. But so far the office has distributed only 25,000 such packs. The agency says about 4 million people were affected in the region it covers.

Edna Gesulgon, a 49-year-old teacher whose family in Tacloban survived the storm, was waiting at the air base here, hoping to board a flight so she could help them. She said she had heard from relatives about dead, decomposing bodies lying in public view, the stench filling the air.

"I'm appealing to all the people of the world to donate food," Ms Gesulgon said. "The people now are so devastated, angry."

The aftermath of Haiyan is proving to be the largest crisis in memory for this disaster-prone country, with more than 600,000 people believed to be displaced. Festering bodies and a lack of clean water increasingly pose the risk of disease.

President Benigno Aquino III has sent in police troops and military members to improve security. Some local police crews are barely functional. In Tacloban, only 20 of the city's 293 policemen have shown up for duty, Mr Roxas, the interior secretary, told Reuters.

One of the women waiting in line for a seat on the plane at Mactan, 33-year-old Cynthia Kempis, said she was in Tacloban with her sister when the storm struck. She managed to get to Cebu, but her sister stayed in Tacloban to fend off looters.

"We had to rush to the kitchen and hide under the sink. Then, suddenly, we felt the water rising from the floor," Ms Kempis told a reporter. "And soon, it was knee-level, so we had to get up, grab the two children, and get on top of the sink."

Because Ms Kempis couldn't swim, she and her sister and the youngsters, ages 5 and 8, clung to a plastic-and-foam sofa and floated for several hours inside the flooded house.

"Soon, our heads were pressed against the ceiling," she recalled. "I said, 'We need to get air.' We floated to the next room, whose roof the storm had blown away."

Washington Post