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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Destruction and Dazed Survivors Found in Remote Philippine Areas

The effects of Typhoon Haiyan’s destructive path on remote areas of the central Philippines are being pieced together as the authorities, journalists and relief workers are finally reaching hard-hit small towns and island fishing villages in eastern Samar Province.

What they are finding is widespread destruction and dazed survivors, desperate for food, water and medicine. They are learning of lives lost, but the overall estimated death toll from the storm, once feared at 10,000, has been significantly lowered to 2,500, President Benigno S. Aquino said on Wednesday.

International relief efforts have been initially focused on Talcoban, a coastal city of about 220,000, as my colleague Keith Bradsher reported.

But local officials across the bay in Samar Province are demanding attention. In Basey, a town of about 50,000, officials said that more than 500 people were confirmed dead and that an initial assessment found that 95 percent of the properties were damaged.

“We are appealing for help,” Christine Caidic, a spokeswoman for the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, told reporters at The Philippine Daily Inquirer. “We feel the national government has neglected us.”

The Inquirer reported that the number of casualties was undetermined in the nearby town of Marabut because search and rescue crews only arrived in the area on Wednesday.

Video and photos from Balangkayan and Hernani show the destruction in the two Eastern Samar towns. And a woman in this YouTube video describes losing her husband, a former boxer, in the storm.

Johnson Manabat, a radio reporter and anchor in the Philippines, shared photos on Twitter from Hernani, showing the damage and an appeal written on his crew’s car: “Obama, help us pls.”

Downed communication lines and toppled cellular towers cut off most remote areas after the storm first made landfall in Guiuan in Samar Province on Friday.

Aerial photographs from the Philippines Army’s Central Command showed that entire neighborhoods in Guiuan, with 45,000 people, were leveled. The airport in Guiuan is now open for military aircraft, and relief groups are using it as to help deliver supplies across Eastern Samar.

A team from Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, arrived in Guiuan by plane. In a statement released on Wednesday, the team said that the “damage is extensive and the needs immense.”

“The situation here is bleak,” says Alexis Moens, MSF’s assessment team leader. “The village has been flattened â€" houses, medical facilities, rice fields, fishing boats, all destroyed. People are living out in the open; there are no roofs left standing in the whole of Guiuan. The needs are immense and there are a lot of surrounding villages that are not yet covered by any aid organizations.”

A full team will return by helicopter tomorrow and immediately get to work delivering medical assistance to as many people as possible. The priority will be to treat the wounded and ensure that people who need additional care are referred to more specialized services. The team will also provide clean water, shelter, and relief items.

“Today I met a man who lost his whole family,” says Moens. “He was hospitalized because he tried to stab himself with a knife in the chest. Tragically, we hear these sorts of stories in many places. There are villages that have lost so many people, and psychosocial assistance is going to be essential to help people rebuild their lives.”