Typhoon Haiyan: Aid delays cause rising tensions in Philippines

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CEBU, Philippines (CNN) — Amid widespread suffering and reports of rising tensions on the ground, aid organizations and nations around the world raced Tuesday to deliver aid to areas of the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan four days earlier.

While continued rain and transportation problems were frustrating efforts to deliver aid to those in need, some cargo flights carrying food, water, medical supplies and doctors were able to land.

Still, precious little aid was reaching victims Tuesday, especially those in hard-to-reach remote locations.

Rain from a tropical depression Tuesday grounded some relief flights, while blocked roads and poor conditions at some airports made delivering other aid a difficult proposition, increasing the misery of survivors and raising anxiety levels.

“I fear anarchy happening in Tacloban City,” said CNN iReporter Maelene Alcala, who was on vacation in Tacloban when the typhoon struck and has since evacuated to Manila. “It’s like survival of the fittest.”

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Tuesday that “women and children are begging on the streets for donations, exposing themselves to abuse and exploitation”

“With power lines still down, the lack of lighting has made women and children at home and in evacuation centres more vulnerable, especially at night,” the agency said.

More than 2 million people need food aid, the Philippine government said. Nearly 300,000 of them are pregnant women or new mothers.

Tomoo Hozumi, the Philippines’ UNICEF representative, said food, shelter, clean water and basic sanitation were “in a severe shortage.”

“The situation on the ground is very hideous,” he told CNN’s “The Situation Room.”

In one rare bit of good news, President Benigno Aquino III told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the initial death projection of 10,000 was “too much,” and that the final accounting would more likely be around 2,000 to 2,500.

Among the dead, the State Department said Tuesday, were two U.S. citizens. Their identities were not immediately released.

Acts of desperation

The lack of food and water drove famished survivors to desperate measures.

They’ve taken food and other items from grocery and department stores in Tacloban, a city of more than 200,000, that Haiyan — called “Yolanda” in the Philippines — has laid to waste.

Shop owners in the capital of the devastated province of Leyte have organized to defend their wares with deadly force, said local businessman Richard Young.

“We have our firearms. We will shoot within our property,” he said.

Authorities have sent police and military reinforcements to try to bring the situation under control.

Soldiers shot dead two members of a communist militant group, the New People’s Army, on Tuesday when they ambushed a government aid convoy, Philippine state news agency PNA reported.

The Philippines Armed Forces added 700 troops to its force in Tacloban on Tuesday, it said, bringing the total to 1,000. That includes 300 special forces troops and military engineers.

The army will fly aid to survivors in remote areas around the city with 11 helicopters and as many trucks.

“We can’t wait,” said Martin Romualdez, the area’s congressman. “People have gone three days without any clean water, food and medication,” he told CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live.” “People are getting desperate.”

The exodus from the ravaged areas is adding to road congestion, further slowing help from getting in.

Help on the way

At least 29 nations or government groups have sent or pledged aid, according to the Philippines government. The aid includes $25 million from the United Nations, $4 million from the European Union, $16 million from Britain and $10 million from the United Arab Emirates, home to a large population of expatriate Filipino workers.

In Hong Kong, the U.S. Navy rounded up sailors enjoying shore leave from the USS George Washington and ordered the aircraft carrier’s strike group to make “best speed” for the Philippines. Its air wings will deliver supplies and medical care to survivors.

The Pentagon ordered more Marines from Japan to join the relief effort, and the U.S. Navy was also prepping three amphibious assault ships to head for the region, a senior Pentagon official told CNN. Among other things, such ships can turn seawater into desperately needed potable water.

Experts from Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam and other organizations, as well as U.N. and U.S. civilian disaster assessment teams, were on the scene.

And in addition to the U.S. Navy ships on the way, U.S. Marines based in Japan expected to finish within a day work to outfit Tacloban’s airport with lights, radar and other gear to allow it to operate 24 hours a day.

Belgium and Russia sent field hospitals. The European Union sent 3 million euros ($4 million) and two Boeing 747 aircraft loaded with supplies. Israel loaded up two 747s with 200 medical personnel and supplies.

Difficult deliveries

But it will almost certainly continue to be difficult to get that aid to survivors.

Many roads remain blocked, and electricity is out in many areas, making it difficult to operate at night.

Complicating matters, a new tropical low, Zoraida, blew in Tuesday delivering more rain, the Philippine national weather agency PAGASA reported.

Zoraida is not a strong storm, but it has dumped just under 4 inches of rain in some places, CNN meteorologists say.

It was holding up desperately needed aid in at least one province, Iloilo, where Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr. grounded relief flights until it had passed.

Zoraida also slowed air aid in the neighboring province of Cebu, an official said, although military planes continued flying at the maximum allowed level of risk there.

And although no damage was reported, an earthquake rattled part of the affected area Tuesday. The magnitude-4.8 quake shook San Isidro, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

‘God, thank you for this big miracle’

Amid the despair, there were moments of joy.

In Cebu, Fritz Anosa was reunited with his parents, who live in the hard-hit city of Guiuan where the storm made its first landfall in the Philippines. They were able to make it onto a Philippines Air Force C-130 making a return flight to deliver aid to the devastated community.

“When I first saw them, I was just so happy that we all broke down in tears,” he said. “When I saw them, it was like, ‘God, thank you for this big miracle.'”

Late Tuesday, CNN iReporter Debra Thomas found Sebastian Makison, the young man she has raised since high school. He was in the Philippines for volunteer work. Family members worked through Facebook and Twitter to find him, and a volunteer worker saw the posts and connected them. They visited over Skype late Tuesday night, bringing tears of joy.

“I am praying for the rest of the familiesand I hope they are as lucky as we are,” Thomas said.

Utter devastation

The storm struck Friday with powerful, possibly unprecedented, winds and enormous storm surges that flattened more than 20,000 homes, hurled ships far inland and forced 800,000 people from their homes, according to the United Nations.

Thousands are injured. The dead are lying about everywhere.

“We have bodies in the water, bodies on the bridges, bodies on the side of the road,” said Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross. Aid workers see them floating in the water.

Some are crudely covered, others left out in the blazing sun. Some journalists covering the story wear masks to blunt the growing stench as the bodies decompose.

Many corpses are out of view, mixed up with the rubble spread out as far as the eye can see. Some of them may be buried inside homes covered over by mud and debris.

The storm weakened as it left the Philippines but went on to kill 14 more people in Vietnam and five more in China.

Worst typhoon?

Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines with what may be the strongest sustained cyclone winds on record at 195 mph (314 kph). It is too early for scientists to tell.

Gusts reported at first landfall were measured at 235 mph (375 kph) — also a record, if confirmed.

The Philippine ambassador to the United States has lived through many typhoons, but does not recall one worse than Haiyan.

“We have 20 to 24 a year. But we have not seen anything like this in the past,” Jose Cuisia Jr. told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Storm chaser James Reynolds was shocked by Haiyan, even before the cyclone hit Tacloban, where he awaited its approach.

“My team and I were absolutely speechless about the storm, how strong it was getting,” he said. “You know it was at the extreme upper level of a category 5 if it was in the Atlantic. It was a very frightening thing to witness.”

Blaming climate change

At the start of a U.N. climate conference in Warsaw, Poland, on Monday, Naderev Sano, climate change commissioner for the Philippines, broke down in tears.

He blamed the typhoon on climate change.

“We can fix this. We can stop this madness,” he said. “Right here, right now. In the middle of this football field. And stop moving the goalposts.”

Sano announced he is going on a hunger strike in solidarity with the millions of his countrymen suffering in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

He promised the Philippine delegation’s support for measures to halt climate change.

By Ivan Watson. Paula Hancocks and Michael Pearson

CNN’s Ivan Watson reported from Cebu and Paula Hancocks reported from Tacloban; Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Ben Brumfield, Barbara Starr, Matt Smith, Jessica King, Saad Abedine, Jethro Mullen, Catherine E. Shoichet, Neda Farshbaf, Andrew Stevens, Kristie Lu Stout, and Jessica King contributed to this report.