The USS George Washington arrives Wednesday in the typhoon-hit central Philippines to help bring aid to many remain who remain desperate for food and other basic necessities.
On Wednesday, the official death toll from Typhoon Haiyan reached 2,275. With thousands still missing and entire communities not heard from since the huge storm hit, officials initially said 10,000 people may have perished.
However, Philippine President Benigno Aquino, sounding a note of optimism, told CNN the final toll could be significantly lower, that a final accounting will probably be about 2,000 to 2,500 dead.
The Pentagon says the carrier USS George Washington and four other ships will arrive in the Leyte Gulf Wednesday, with the combined capacity to produce millions of liters of drinking water daily.
Equivalent to a tsunami
U.S. Brigadier General Paul Kennedy is leading a group of U.S. Marines already on the ground in Tacloban. He spoke with VOA’s Steve Herman at a media briefing at Villamore Airbase, in Manila.
“He described the storm as essentially equivalent to a tsunami, with the strength of a tornado 50 miles wide, as he put it. He said that all along the coast, every single palm tree had been ripped out of the ground and so many areas are impassable by road,” said Herman.
The U.S. military airlifted 50 tons of humanitarian supplies into Tacloban on Tuesday, and although Herman reports conditions are still “quite grim”, the pace of aid is expected to pick up with the reopening of the city’s small local airport.
“As of tonight, Tacloban airport, which is a civilian airport, which is now only open to military aircraft, will be operating again 24 hours. That will essentially triple the amount of aircraft and humanitarian supplies going into Tacloban,” explained Herman.
The help could not come soon enough for many survivors, hundreds of thousands of whom remain homeless five days after the storm. Many have little or no access to food and water, and some have turned to looting to survive.
In a sign of the desperation, eight people were killed Wednesday when a government warehouse holding stockpiles of rice collapsed after being stormed by a group of survivors.
U.S. Brigadier General Paul Kennedy, who is leading a group of U.S. Marines on the ground in Tacloban, said that the “entire Pacific Command” is responding to the crisis.
“We have water purification units that are coming today. I won’t give you the technical details of that, but these are coming out of Japan. We have got expeditionary runway sets that are coming out, so that will include what we call a mini tower. It won’t be an actual radar, but it will be more than just a beacon to allow airplanes to land at night, and then we have light sets that are going up today. So we can start doing 24-hour operations starting today,” said Kennedy.
Meanwhile, the Manila Standard newspaper, under the headline “Mass Escape from Hell,” said thousands of people frightened by post-storm anarchy in the city and sickened by the stench of decaying corpses, were awaiting flights to Manila Wednesday.
Local authorities said about 3,000 people have swarmed the airport since Monday night, fighting for a chance to board a single C-130 prop plane to Manila. But only a few hundred made it on board.
Authorities say the flow of relief supplies has been further hampered by clogged regional ports and wrecked roadways leading to Tacloban and surrounding areas.
Tens of millions of relief dollars have been pledged by a cluster of developed nations, ranging from Britain and other European governments to Canada, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea and the global banking group HSBC.
The United Nations is asking international donors for $301 million to help typhoon survivors. VOA