TACLOBAN, PHILIPPINES -- Stunned survivors of one of the most powerful typhoons ever to make landfall picked through the remains of their homes Monday and pleaded for food and medicine as the Philippines struggled to deal with what is likely its deadliest natural disaster.
Authorities said at least 2 million people in 41 provinces had been affected by Friday’s disaster and at least 23,000 houses had been damaged or destroyed. Large areas along the coast had been transformed into twisted piles of debris, blocking roads and trapping decomposing bodies underneath. Ships were tossed inland, cars and trucks swept out to sea and bridges and ports washed away.
“In some cases the devastation has been total,” said Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras.
In Leyte province, the badly hit city of Tacloban resembled a garbage dump from the air, punctuated only by a few concrete buildings that remained standing.
That toll was expected to rise significantly, however, and two provincial officials said Sunday it could reach 10,000 or more. The disaster has shattered transportation and communication links, as well as local governance structures, making it hard to come up with a definite tally. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said “we pray” that the death toll is less than 10,000.
“Please tell my family I’m alive,” said Erika Mae Karakot, a survivor on Leyte island, as she lined up for aid. “We need water and medicine because a lot of the people we are with are wounded. Some are suffering from diarrhea and dehydration due to shortage of food and water.”
Even though authorities had evacuated some 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon, the death toll was predicted to be high because many evacuation centers - brick-and-mortar schools, churches and government buildings - could not withstand the winds and water surges. Officials said people who had huddled in these buildings drowned or were swept away.
The U.S. military dispatched water, generators and a contingent of Marines to the worst-hit city along the country’s remote eastern seaboard, the first outside help in what will swell into a major international relief mission in the coming days. Two U.S. C-130 transport planes flew from Manila’s Vilamor air base to Tacloban.
Survivors wandered through the remains of their flattened wooden homes, hoping to salvage belongings or find loved ones.
CBS News reporter Barnaby Lo, who himself escaped the damage on the nearby island of Cebu, said there was looting of stripped malls, shops and homes in Tacloban. Witnesses said it was largely food, water and consumer goods being stolen, and officials said some of the looting smacked of desperation. In other cases, however, items taken included TVs, refrigerators, Christmas trees and a treadmill. An Associated Press reporter in the town said he saw around 400 special forces and soldiers patrolling downtown to guard against further chaos.
“We’re afraid that it’s going to get dangerous in town because relief goods are trickling in very slow,” said Bobbie Womack, an American missionary and longtime Tacloban resident from Athens, Tennessee. “I know it’s a massive, massive undertaking to try to feed a town of over 150,000 people. They need to bring in shiploads of food.”
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said he was considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in Tacloban. A state of emergency usually includes curfews, price and food supply controls, military or police checkpoints and increased security patrols.
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