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Doctors sent to ravaged Philippines forced to perform surgery by flashlight

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

The small town of Tanauan in the Philippines is among the hardest hit from Typhoon Yolanda. The city has almost been completely wiped out. American doctors from Mammoth Medical Missions in California have been working nonstop, using desks as operating tables and working by flashlight to deal with the massive wounded.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The 16-member team has performed more than 100 surgeries, including amputations to two C-sections in three short days. The doctors now say they would have to start turning patients away.

The makeshift clinic hasn't been resupplied with medicines and equipment. Doctors say there appears to be no concerted aid effort from the government or international organizations. Without supplies there will be nothing left that they can do.

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The desperate wait outside for long hours for help amid the smell of rotting flesh and stagnant water. "It's like war," one surgeon said. "I've never been in a war but this is what I imagine it's like."

Working without rest, Tanauan will need extra help for months. "I don't know when or how we are going to be able to leave," Dr. Mike Karch says. "This is just the beginning of a wave of misery."

Scenes of devastation coming from Tanauan are far worse than those coming out of Tacloban, a larger city 30 miles north. An expanse of waterlogged fields and muddy beaches is all that remains of the countryside. The streets are filled with mountains of debris, uprooted trees and people looking for help.

An NBC News crew was immediately mobbed by about 50 people hoping for food, water and supplies, mistaking the journalists for aid workers.

Areas devastated by Typhoon Haiyan across the Philippines are reportedly on the verge of anarchy. Troops and police struggle to control looting in streets, where rotting corpses remain uncollected.

Based in Mammoth Lakes in the mountains of central California, the Mammoth Mission doctors is part of an international effort to deliver aid. The doctors were on a five-day trip to Mexico when they were rerouted to Tanauan, which Karch called "ground zero of the typhoon."

Water and glass was cleared out of the town hall before doctors could help patients. They have since worked around the clock to remove shrapnel and amputate limbs that could not be saved.

As the city lurches toward lawlessness, the surgeons expect to see different injuries. "This [violence] is part of the epidemiology of a natural disaster," he said.

"The first few days people are stunned, looking for water and food. But then they get desperate and then comes the violence. We are expecting much more trauma to come in as a result over the next few days."

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