TACLOBAN, Philippines (AP) — A city devastated by last week's typhoon buried some of its dead in a mass grave in a hillside cemetery on Thursday, a somber reminder of the tragedy that has left the Philippines with the monumental task of providing for some 11.5 million affected people.
Aid was beginning to reach some of the 545,000 people displaced by Typhoon Haiyan that tore across several islands in eastern Philippines six days ago, killing thousands of people. Most of the casualties occurred in Leyte province, its capital Tacloban, and Samar island. Many bodies are still lying along the roads in the city and others are buried under debris.
Outside the Tacloban City Hall, dozens of bodies in bags were lined up Thursday, waiting to be trucked to the cemetery just outside the city for burial. The stench of death filled the air.
In the first such operation, 30 bodies in leaking black bags were lowered into graves without any prayers being said.
"I hope this is the last time I see something like this," said Mayor Alfred Romualdez. "When I look at this it just reminds me of what has happened from the day the storm hit until today."
Officials said efforts had been made to identify the bodies so families have a chance of finding out what happened to their loved ones in the days and weeks to come. It was not immediately clear whether this included DNA testing.
Authorities say 2,357 people have been confirmed dead in the disaster, but that figure is expected to rise, perhaps significantly, when information is collected from other areas of the disaster zone.
Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian chief who toured Tacloban on Wednesday, said some 11.5 million people have been affected by the typhoon, which includes people who lost their loved ones, were injured, and suffered damage to their homes, business or livelihoods.
"The situation is dismal ... tens of thousands of people are living in the open ... exposed to rain and wind," she told reporters in Manila on Thursday.
She said the immediate priority for humanitarian agencies over the next few days is to transport and distribute high energy biscuits and other food, tarpaulins, tents, clean drinking water and basic sanitation services.
"I think we are all extremely distressed that this is Day 6 and we have not managed to reach everyone," she said.
Along with aid workers, Philippine soldiers on trucks were distributing rice and water. Chainsaw-wielding teams cut debris from blocked roads, as thousands swarmed the airport, desperate to leave.
The first nighttime flights — of C-130 transport planes — arrived since the typhoon struck, suggesting air control systems are now in place for a 24-7 operation — a prerequisite for the massive relief operation needed.
Tacloban city administrator Tecson Lim said 70 percent of the city's 220,000 people are in need of emergency assistance, and that only 70 of the city's 2,700 employees have been showing up for work.
He also stuck to an earlier estimate that 10,000 people had died in Tacloban even though President Benigno Aquino III has said the final death toll would top 2,500.
While there is no shortage of aid material — both domestic and international — much of it is stuck in Manila and the nearby airport of Cebu because of the extensive damage that Tacloban airport suffered. Some of it, including food, water and medical supplies from the U.S., Malaysia and Singapore, had reached Tacloban and sat on pallets along the tarmac.
Amos said because of a lack of fuel in Tacloban, the few trucks on ground are unable to move the aid material from the airport to the city. The weather also remains a challenge, with frequent downpours. The good news is that the debris on the road from the airport to the city has been pushed to one side, she said.
On Wednesday, the U.N.'s World Food Program distributed rice and other items to nearly 50,000 people in the Tacloban area. Nearly 10 tons of high energy biscuits were also delivered to the city on Wednesday, with another 25 tons on the way.
The Tacloban airport has also become the site of a makeshift clinic where hundreds of injured people, pregnant women, children and the elderly have poured in. The run-down, single-story building with filthy floors has little medicine, virtually no facilities and very few doctors.
Doctors who have been dealing with cuts, fractures and pregnancy complications said Wednesday they soon expect to be treating more serious problems such as pneumonia, dehydration, diarrhea and infections from lack of clean water.
Some among the desperate residents have resorted to raiding for food. Mobs overran a rice warehouse on Leyte, collapsing a wall that killed eight people. Thousands of sacks of the grain were carted off. But police say the situation is improving on the ground, and there was little sign Thursday of a deteriorating security situation there.
Philippine Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla said it may take six weeks before the first typhoon-hit towns get their electric power back. He said that in Tacloban, order needed to be restored "because if there's no peace and order, it's hard to reinstall the power posts."
He said army troops had fired shots Wednesday to drive away a group of armed men who approached a power transmission sub-station in Leyte province. The unidentified men fired back then fled. Nobody was hurt.
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Thousands of villagers in the central Philippines, including those from a province devastated by a recent earthquake, were being evacuated Thursday as one of the most powerful typhoons globally this year approaches.
Typhoon Haiyan was already packing sustained winds of 215 kilometers (134 miles) per hour and ferocious gusts of 250 kph (155 mph), and could pick up strength over the Pacific Ocean before it slams into the eastern Philippine province of Eastern Samar on Friday, according to government forecasters.
The U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii said it was the strongest tropical cyclone in the world this year, although Cyclone Phailin, which hit eastern India on Oct. 12, packed winds of up to 222 kph (138 mph) and stronger gusts.
Governors and mayors were supervising the evacuation of thousands of residents away from landslide- and flood-prone communities in several provinces where the typhoon is expected to pass, said Eduardo del Rosario, head of the government's main disaster-response agency.
President Benigno Aquino III has ordered officials to aim for zero casualties, a goal often broken in an archipelago lashed by about 20 storms each year, most of them deadly and destructive. Haiyan is the 24th such storm to hit the Philippines this year.
Edgardo Chatto, the governor of Bohol island province in the central Philippines, where an earthquake last month killed more than 200 people, said that soldiers, police and rescue units were helping displaced residents, including thousands still in small tents, move to shelters. The typhoon was not forecast to directly hit Bohol but the province was still expected to be battered by strong wind and rain, government forecaster Jori Loiz said.
Army troops were helping transport food packs and other relief goods in hard-to-reach communities and rescue helicopters are on stand-by, the military said.
"My worst fear is that the eye of this typhoon will hit us. I hope we will be spared," Chatto told The Associated Press by telephone.
Haiyan was forecast to barrel through the country's central region Friday and Saturday before it blows toward the South China Sea on Sunday, heading toward Virtnam. It was not expected to hit the densely populated capital, Manila, in the north, Loiz said.
CEBU, Philippines (AP) — Divers have plucked two more bodies from a sunken passenger ferry and are scrambling to plug an oil leak in the wreckage after a collision with a cargo ship. The accident near the central Philippine port of Cebu that has left 34 dead and more than 80 others missing.
Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III said Sunday that 751 passengers and crewmen of the MV Thomas Aquinas have been rescued after the inter-island ferry figured in a collision late Friday with the MV Sulpicio Express Siete then rapidly sank off the Cebu pier.
Stunned passengers were forced to jump in the dark into the water after the captain ordered the doomed ferry abandoned.