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Relief to Philippines: 'We have let people down'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 14th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Navy airship the USS George Washington has reached the coast of the battered Philippines, still reeling from Typhoon Yolanda. Getting food, water and medicine to the countless needy people here has been frustrating. The United Nations' humanitarian chief has acknowledged the situation here, saying that "We have let people down."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - It's estimated that more than half a million people have been displaced across the Philippines. The confirmed death toll is currently at 2,357, bu that figure will only go higher as relief efforts move further inland.

Dubbed "Operation Damayan," 5,000 sailors along with two supporting cruisers have begun moving aid to the increasingly-desperate typhoon survivors.

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It's been nearly a week after 195 mile per hour winds slammed into the country. Boxes of aid are piling up at airports and military bases as many survivors struggle in the ruins.

Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, the city by far the hardest hit, says that workers had to choose between using trucks for the distribution of food or the collection of bodies. The main convention center has become temporary home for hundreds of people whose homes have been lost in the disaster.

"I do feel that we have let people down because we have not been able to get in more quickly," U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters. "I think we are all extremely distressed that . we have not managed to reach everyone."

High energy biscuits along with other food, tarpaulins, tents, clean drinking water and basic sanitation services is the immediate priority for humanitarian agencies to distribute to survivors.

Philippines President Benigno Aquino now faces the task of containing rising anger and deteriorating security. May blame him for the logistical "logjam" that has slowed the distribution of aid.

As the situation worsens, residents have resorted to lethal measures for basic necessities. Eight people were reported crushed to death when looters raided rice stockpiles in a government warehouse in the town of Alangalang.

"The Tacloban team is facing enormous constraints because we cannot move around freely due to the security situation," Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Program says. Byrs is coordinating logistics for the aid and recovery effort.

In the meantime, Mayor Romualdez says authorities lacked the necessary manpower and vehicles to both deliver supplies and to clear bodies off the streets.

"It's scary," Romualdez said. "There is a request from a community to come and collect bodies, they say it's five or 10. When we get there, it's 40.

"The choice is to use the same truck either to distribute food or collect bodies."

The USS George Washington is carrying purifying machines that can make about 100,000 of gallons of drinking water a day. Its presence significantly boosts the U.S. aid already in the region. The carrier has brought about 100,000 pounds of supplies into the area.

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