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Aid trickles in to Philippines

TACLOBAN  – The death toll from one of the world’s most powerful typhoons surged to about 4,000 today, but the aid effort was still so patchy, bodies lay uncollected as rescuers tried to evacuate stricken communities across the central Philippines.

After long delays, hundreds of international aid workers set up makeshift hospitals and trucked in supplies, while helicopters from a US aircraft carrier ferried medicine and water to remote areas leveled by Typhoon Haiyan a week ago.

“We are very, very worried about millions of children,” UN Children’s Fund spokesman Marixie Mercado told reporters in Geneva. A UN official said in a guarded compliment many countries had come forward to help.

“The response from the international community has not been overwhelming compared to the magnitude of the disaster, but it has been very generous so far,” Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told the Geneva news briefing.

Captain Victoriano Sambale, a military doctor who since Saturday has treated patients in a room strewn with dirt and debris in Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the storm, said there had been a change in the pace i
n the response.

“I can see the international support coming here,”
he said.

“Day one we treated 600-plus patients. Day two we had 700-plus patients. Day three we lost our count.”

President Benigno Aquino, caught off guard by the scale of the disaster, has been criticised for the slow pace of aid distribution and unclear estimates of casualties, especially in Tacloban, capital of hardest-hit Leyte province.

A notice board in Tacloban City Hall estimated the deaths at 4,000 today, up from 2,000 a day before, in that town alone. Hours later, Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez apologized and said the toll was for the whole central Philippines.

The toll, marked up on a whiteboard, is compiled
by officials who started burying bodies in a mass grave
on yesterday.

Romualdez said some people may have been swept out to sea and their bodies lost after a tsunami-like wall of seawater slammed into coastal areas. One neighbourhood with a population of between 10,000 and 12,000 was now deserted, he said.

The City Hall toll was the first public acknowledgement that the number of fatalities would likely far exceed an estimate given this week by Aquino, who said lives lost would be closer to 2,000 or 2,500.

Official confirmed deaths nationwide rose by more than 1,200 overnight to 3,621 today. Adding to the confusion, the United Nations, citing government figures, put the latest overall death toll at 4,460, but
a spokeswoman said it was now reviewing the figure.

“I hope it will not rise anymore. I hope that is the final number,” Eduardo del Rosario, director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said
of the latest official toll. “If it rises, it will probably
be very slight.” (Reuters)

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