Typhoon Haiyan: Death toll now over 5,000, authorities say

 

The death toll from one of the strongest typhoons on record has risen above 5,000 in the Philippines and is likely to climb further.

The government said 4,919 people were killed on Leyte, Samar and nearby islands in the Eastern Visayas region and 290 others died in other parts of the central and southern Philippines.

The regions were battered two weeks ago by fierce winds and tsunami-like storm surges from Typhoon Haiyan, locally called Yolanda. There are 1,611 people still missing.

"That is the sad record of Yolanda's passage through our country," interior secretary Mar Roxas said. But he added that "the worst is over".

"We have overcome the most difficult part," he said. "In the first week we can say we were in the emergency room ... this second week we are now in the ICU (intensive care unit), still critical but stabilised."

He said the hard-hit Leyte provincial capital of Tacloban reported 1,725 dead, but added: "I believe this number is not yet final."

Most of the bodies have been buried in mass graves, many of them unidentified and Mr Roxas said some of the missing might be among them.

Journalists in Tacloban say the stench of death from piles of debris, upturned vehicles and remnants of what once were homes indicates that bodies remain trapped underneath.

Mr Roxas said the situation was stabilising, with major roads on Samar and Leyte cleared of debris and some banks, grocery stores and petrol stations now open.

More troops and police have been brought to the region from other parts of the country to beef up law and order.

The airport in Tacloban, the regional hub, and its seaport are operating. "There is no more looting," Mr Roxas said. "We are now heading to recovery and reconstruction."

Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on November 8 and quickly barrelled across its central islands, packing winds of 147mph and gusts of up to 170mph, with a storm surge of 20 feet.

Even though authorities evacuated about 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon, the death toll was high because many evacuation centres - schools, churches and government buildings - could not withstand the winds and water. Officials said people who sought shelter in the buildings drowned or were swept away.

The United States and about two dozen other governments quickly sent aid. Bottlenecks, including roads blocked by debris, damaged vehicles and a lack of personnel, held up the distribution of relief supplies in the first week.

US Marines helped clear the Tacloban airport runway, allowing the delivery by air of aid to the city which became the relief center for the region.

Mr Roxas said more than 1.1 million food packs were delivered. "Our mission is to deliver relief and food supplies to all the towns ... (with) 100,000 food packs every day," he said.

Typically, a food pack consists of rice, noodles, canned goods and instant coffee sufficient for a family for two days.

The United Nations has boosted its appeal for Philippines typhoon relief by nearly 16 per cent from £186 million to £215 million with a further rise likely.

"A massive disaster like this requires a massive response," UN humanitarian co-ordinator Valerie Amos said. "Much more needs to be done. Food, clean water and shelter remain the top priorities."

AP

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