CEBU, Philippines - More than 100 bodies are lying in the streets of Tacloban City in Leyte that was hit by super typhoon Yolanda last Friday, an aviation official said yesterday.
Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines director general William Hotchkiss said a Tacloban airport official reported what he described as more than a hundred bodies littering a street near the airport.
Airport official Efren Nagrama was also asking for help for 100 more people badly injured, Hotchkiss said.
Nagrama said there were no casualties among airport personnel.
Hotchkiss said the Tacloban Airport terminal had been badly damaged by the typhoon but personnel were able to open the runway to allow military and rescue operations.
CAAP deputy chief John Andrews flew to Tacloban yesterday to assess the situation.
“The terminal, the tower, including communication equipment, were destroyed,” Andrews said.
Andrews noted the report made by Nagrama of seeing 100 bodies lying in the street near the airport.
He said the information about the deaths was relayed by high-frequency radio to the authorities. Radio messages to Manila had to be relayed through another airport in the Visayas once every five hours to conserve radio batteries.
“This report was relayed to us by our station manager so it is considered very reliable information,” Andrews told ABS-CBN, “according to the station manager the airport is completely ruined.”
Andrews said the deaths were likely caused by huge waves whipped up by the typhoon, with the airport and surrounding areas lying alongside the coast.
A journalist of GMA television also reported seeing about 20 bodies piled up in a church in Palo, some 10 kilometers south of Tacloban.
The 20 bodies were taken to the church in Palo that was used as an evacuation center but had to be abandoned when its roof was blown away, the TV network reported.
The reporter said he counted at least 31 bodies, including the 20 at the Palo church, and 20 more, including a child that was washed ashore at a pier in Tacloban hours after Yolanda ripped through the coastal city.
The TV images showed howling winds peeling off G.I. sheets during heavy rain.
Authorities are now rushing rescuers and communication equipment to Tacloban.
The Philippine Air Force began flying C-130 planes full of relief supplies to Tacloban yesterday. Military communication equipment will be installed in Tacloban to establish contact with the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Manila.
Fifteen thousand soldiers had been deployed to the disaster zones, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala said.
“We are flying sorties to bring relief goods, materials and communication equipment,” Zagala said.
He said helicopters were also flying rescuers into priority areas, while infantry units deployed across the affected areas were also proceeding on foot or in military trucks.
The PNP also deployed 150 policemen to help in the rescue and relief operations in Tacloban City.
Authorities were earlier unable to immediately contact the worst affected areas after Yolanda – the strongest typhoon on record – made landfall Friday.
Most of the worst-hit areas were cut off from communications throughout Friday, with power and telephone networks destroyed, and the first reports that began to emerge after daybreak yesterday painted a deeply ominous picture.
There were initial reports that only three people were killed and seven missing on Friday but authorities feared the death toll was expected to rise given the ferocity of the typhoon.
Five other people have been confirmed killed elsewhere, including in Masbate and Quezon province. At least three more people were killed in Palawan, ABS-CBN reported, citing a local disaster official.
Seven people in two pumpboats were also reported missing in Antique.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council reported yesterday 19 fatalities — three from Cebu (see accompanying story for update), three in Antique, six in Capiz, three from Iloilo, one from Batangas and three from Coron, an island town in the northern tip of Palawan.
NDRRMC said they are having difficulty in establishing contacts with field units and the local governments.
Another area of particular concern was Guiuan, a fishing town of about 40,000 people on Samar that was the first to be hit after Yolanda swept in from the Pacific Ocean.
Gwendolyn Pang of the Philippine Red Cross said contact had not yet been made with Guiuan. She also expressed concern for people in Capiz province.
She said most of the region’s infrastructure had been destroyed and many houses “flattened to the ground.”
Unfolding scale of disaster
The government expressed alarm yesterday about the unfolding scale of the disaster brought by Yolanda.
“We are very concerned about the situation there,” Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras told reporters, when asked about the deaths in and around Tacloban, “the president is asking why there were still fatalities.”
Almendras said the number of casualties could not be immediately determined, but that the figure was “probably in that range” given by the CAAP officials.
He said government troops were helping recover bodies.
In an interview with CNN, Almendras said “we have all of the government resources,” including air and naval assets now moving goods into the areas affected.
“We don’t have an immediate shortage (of relief goods) in the areas because we have prepositioned relief goods in all of these areas, but anticipating that this is going to last long, we want to be ahead of the curve, so we’re trying to move as much relief goods as we can in anticipation of additional needs,” Almendras said.
Almendras said there was aid already in each of the localities hit because “we became aware of the storm.”
He said President Benigno Aquino III was very specific in his instructions to preposition relief goods in these areas.
“And these goods are supposed to be enough for two to three days’supply,” he added.
Almendras said Aquino ordered setting up command centers in Eastern and Western Visayas to hasten government relief efforts. He noted the regions are continuously hampered by lack of communications.
“The challenge right now is the re-establishment of communication and our (telecommunication) providers have committed to restore their services the soonest possible time,” Almendras later told the NDRRMC meeting at Camp Aguinaldo.
He said Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Department of Interior and Local Governments Secretary Manuel Roxas, who were both in Tacloban ahead of Yolanda’s landfall, also reported to Aquino last Friday about the heavy fatalities left by the storm in the city.
“The president had a chance to talk to Secretary Gazmin in the afternoon of Friday and the report of Secretary Gazmin was not good. Tacloban was very badly affected. The reports of the DND and DILG secretaries were quite accurate,” Almendras said.
He added the entire region of Cebu province and Eastern Samar, Bohol, Siquijor, Dumaguete City and Negros Occidental are experiencing erratic power supply.
The National Electrification Administration reported that Leyte, Lubang, Romblon, Iloilo, Coron, Antique, Capiz, Mindoro, Biliran, Catbalogan, Ormoc and Aklan are without electricity.
The Department of Education reported more 10,390 schools were destroyed by the typhoon.
CAAP announced the airports in Tacloban, Roxas City, Buduanga, and Kalibo remained closed because of the extensive damage. However, the airports in Iloilo, Caticlan, Romblon, Dumaguete, Bacolod, Masbate, Legaspi and Surigao are now back to normal operations.
“The damage is so extensive. We have to get in touch with the people,” Almendras said.
Yolanda tore into Leyte and Samar on Friday with sustained winds of around 315 kilometers an hour, making it the strongest typhoon in the world this year and one of the most intense ever to make landfall.
Looting in Tacloban
Roxas said more troops will be sent to Tacloban City today following reports of extensive looting. He and Gazmin arrived at the Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base yesterday afternoon to brief reporters of the situation in Tacloban City.
He is expected to return to Tacloban City early morning today to assess the situation especially the peace and order and the distribution of relief goods.
Roxas said more than 100 soldiers from Calbayog City and policemen will be sent to augment the existing police and military personnel there.
Looters mainly targeted department stores and softdrink warehouses.
The lack of communications also hampered in their operations and coordination with local officials. Roxas said Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez himself became a victim after his house was hit by typhoon and their place was isolated. He said they were the ones who rescued the mayor.
CNN’s Chad Myers described Yolanda as 3.5 times more powerful than Hurricane Katrina, one of the costliest cyclones that struck the United States in 2005 that directly and indirectly killed 1,833 people with $108 billion damage to property.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that America stood ready to help.
Nearly 800,000 people were forced to flee their homes and damage was believed to be extensive while about four million people were affected by the typhoon, the NDRRMC said.
Relief workers are struggling to find ways to deliver food and other supplies, with roads blocked by landslides and fallen trees. — with Jose P. Sollano/BRP (FREEMAN)