Aid delivery to Leyte, Samar speeding up

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Substantial amounts of food and medical aid finally began reaching desperate survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda in Leyte and Eastern Samar yesterday, but humanitarian groups said huge logistical challenges in accessing devastated, remote island communities lie ahead.

President Aquino is scheduled to arrive in Tacloban City today to check on the progress of and supervise relief operations.

The government said it had air-dropped tons of relief goods over far-flung towns still inaccessible by land.

The unprecedented ferocity of the Nov. 8 typhoon and the scale of destruction had completely overwhelmed the initial relief effort, leaving millions in the worst hit Leyte and Samar provinces hurt, homeless and hungry, with no power or water.

After eight days, a working aid pipeline was in place on the ground, funneling emergency supplies to those left destitute in the ruins of Leyte’s Tacloban City, while helicopters flying off the aircraft carrier USS George Washington brought some relief to outlying areas.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, in a press briefing held at the Leyte Sports Center, said 38 of the 40 municipalities in the province had been reached by aid, particularly sacks of rice, canned goods and water.

“We also dropped 830 food packs by chopper...to the remote villages,” Roxas said. The transcript of his interview was made available in Manila by Malacañang.

He said they had to resort to airdrop to reach remote villages in the mountains whose inhabitants could not go down to the city.

In Ormoc City, 15 of the 17 towns had been provided with relief assistance, Roxas said.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang, who was with Roxas in Tacloban City, would later say all 40 towns in Leyte had in fact received assistance.

E. Samar gets help

He also said Eastern Samar was getting much-needed help but admitted rehabilitation and rebuilding may take time.

Earlier, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone lamented that his province had ceased to exist after being battered by Yolanda.

Carandang, who was back in Tacloban City yesterday after visiting Guiuan in Eastern Samar, said the town was not hit by storm surges and that the real impact of Yolanda was most evident in the towns south of the provincial capital Borongan.

According to Carandang, the local government of Guiuan remained fully functional and was assisting the national government in relief efforts.

“Guiuan itself serves as a hub from which relief goods are sourced for affected towns in Eastern Samar,” Carandang said, noting that relief efforts in the area were well-organized and well-coordinated.

Carandang said relief and rescue teams were provided the necessary resources for their operations.

“Funds for these are provided by the national government, while the local government unit handles operations, and foreign groups and missions handle logistics. For example, the US Marines are serving as a logistical support contingent, while missions from France provide medical services,” Carandang said.

“Power, telecommunications and fuel scarcity are among the concerns confronted by Guiuan,” he said, adding that he would communicate with both telecommunications companies Smart and Globe to ensure their improved and uninterrupted service.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), for its part, said it would set up a tent city in Basey, Western Samar to house displaced typhoon survivors.

A fuel depot may also be set up in Western Samar to address the fuel needs in affected areas, he said.

Around 200 people in Guiuan have expressed desire to go to Manila. To facilitate their transport, Carandang said they would coordinate with the proper authorities to arrange for a roll on-roll off trip for them.

Carandang said the nine towns between Guiuan and Borongan were quite difficult to reach, but the government was already doing its best to provide them relief.

Roxas said US helicopters, particularly the Osprey, were helping in the delivery of relief goods to areas in Eastern Samar inaccessible by land.

Roxas said it was also good that officials were able to personally reach them and tell them what they needed, including gasoline.

He said they opened a route – Catbalogan to Borongan – so that fuel and relief goods could be transported easily.

Of the 24 towns in Eastern Samar, nine remained largely inaccessible.

“The so-called main supply routes, whether by land or by air or by sea, must be established from outside. You cannot rely on anything here. Even trucks, everything – payloader, dump truck – because all the equipment here were destroyed, inundated and would no longer start,” Roxas said.

Carandang explained that delivery of goods picked up as roads reopened.

“The problem is with logistics, not lack of coordination or being disorganized. The airports and sea ports are just really fully loaded,” Carandang said, defending Roxas from criticisms that there was lack of action or coordination from the ground. He said other routes were being explored.

Carandang said even the passengers at the Tacloban City airport wanting to leave had been taken care of, although there were still chance passengers waiting for a flight.

Since many wanted to leave, Carandang said they had to prioritize the sick, the elderly and those with tickets.

Unclogging Matnog

Roxas, meanwhile, said the government was working hard to address bottlenecks and decongest ports like the one in Matnog, Sorsogon.

He said it was Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya’s task to manage and organize the transport of relief goods and other humanitarian assistance.

Roxas said more Army trucks would be deployed for delivery of relief goods.

Shipping lines, on the other, have been asked to allocate 75 percent of space on their vessels for relief goods and only 25 percent for passengers or other uses.

Port giant International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), for its part, is deploying P200 million worth of cargo handling equipment to reinforce and improve port services in Tacloban City to handle the influx of relief goods.

Christian Gonzalez, ICTSI head of Asian Region, said the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) tapped the port giant to reinforce and improve port services.

 â€œ We have been closely working round-the-clock with DOTC and PPA to get this project running at the quickest time possible. We have dispatched our equipment, which should arrive in Tacloban by Tuesday,” he said.

He pointed out that the port would be fully operational once various cargo handling equipment arrive.

This includes a brand new mobile harbor crane (MHC) already being commissioned in Davao for possible deployment to Leyte if required. Commissioning is being done in Davao due to the lack of water depth at the Tacloban port to support the heavy lift vessel carrying it.

As its donation to the typhoon victims, Stinis from Holland added two more back up spreaders to ensure the smooth and continuous operation.

Gonzalez added that ICTSI would run the Tacloban port free until the close of the government’s relief operations and normal transportation network has been restored, at which time ICTSI will take back all the equipment and pull out its personnel.

Meanwhile, at the MICT, ICTSI has opened its container freight station (CFS) facilities to the Department of Social Welfare Development (DSWD) for the processing of international relief donations.

UN agencies said more than 170,000 people had received rice rations or food packets, while the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said they would have mobile surgical units up and running in Tacloban by the weekend.

“The place really needs to be saturated with relief,” Red Cross Asia-Pacific spokesman Patrick Fuller said in Tacloban. “People literally have nothing. Money is useless here.”

Since the arrival of the USS George Washington late Thursday, the US military said it had delivered 118 tons of food, water and shelter items to Tacloban and elsewhere, and airlifted nearly 2,900 people to safety.

Although aid was arriving, relief officials described conditions in the covered sports stadium in Tacloban that served as the main evacuation center as appalling, with an almost total absence of proper sanitation.

Children and the elderly remain particularly vulnerable, often unable to get to the relief distribution points opening in the city.

“I have money ... but I cannot eat my money,” Beatrice Bisquera, 91, a retired school supervisor, said in what remained of her home in Tacloban.

“I need medicine but there is no pharmacy that’s open. I’m hungry but the food we stored is gone,” she said.

In its last update, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council put the official death toll at 3,633, with 1,179 people missing and nearly 12,500 injured.

The UN has put the number of dead at 4,460 and said yesterday that 2.5 million people still “urgently” required food assistance.

An estimated 13 million people were affected by the storm, including nearly 1.9 million displaced survivors.

The World Health Organization (WHO) voiced concern over the welfare of remote communities on 20 smaller islands which posed an “exceedingly complicated” aid challenge.

“Because of the geography of the Philippines – an archipelago of many islands – and the fact that so many have been hit by the typhoon, it is essentially like mounting at least seven separate, simultaneous relief efforts,” said Julie Hall, the WHO’s representative in the Philippines.

“This multiplies the logistical challenges associated with the response,” Hall said.

Frustrated with the slow pace of the initial relief effort, a large number of people with relatives in the impacted areas decided to take matters into their own hands.

Filling boxes and sacks with everything from packets of rice to cup noodles and candles, they boarded ferries from Cebu island to Ormoc town on Leyte.

– With Paolo Romero, Mike Frialde, Danny Dangcalan, Marvin Sy, Ria Mae Booc, Lawrence Agcaoili

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