Zoraida threatens hard-hit areas

4:21 AM, Nov 12, 2013   |    comments
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Tacloban, Philippines (CNN) -- Typhoon Haiyan has killed too many people to count so far and pushed to the brink of survival thousands more, who have lost everything, have no food or medical care and are drinking filthy water to survive.

By Tuesday, officials had counted 1,774 of the bodies, but say that number may just be scratching the surface. They fear Haiyan may have taken as many as 10,000 lives.

The storm has injured 2,487 more, and displaced 660,000 people from their homes, the government said.

As authorities rush to save the lives of survivors four days after Haiyan ripped the Philippines apart, a new tropical depression, Zoraida, blew in Tuesday delivering more rain, the Philippine national weather agency PAGASA reported.

Zoraida is not a strong storm, but it is holding up desperately needed aid in at least one province, Iloilo, where Gov. Arthur Defensor Sr. has grounded relief flights, until it has passed.

Boats and trucks will still operate, but like in many areas, whole houses, vehicles, trees and debris piled high cover miles of roadways in affected areas.

It will take heavy machinery and much time to clear them, and although international supplies that have begun to arrive by at airports, much of it is still not getting through to people who need it most.

Acts of desperation

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 representative of UNICEF, 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.

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

They have looted grocery and department stores in Tacloban, a city of over 200,000, that Haiyan, called "Yolanda" in the Philippines, has laid to waste. Authorities there have counted 250 bodies so far.

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 as they ambushed a government aid convoy, Philippine state news agency PNA reported.

The Philippines Armed Forces added 700 troops to its force in Tacloban Tuesday, it said, bringing the total to 1,000. That includes 300 Special Forces 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 out of the ravaged areas is adding to road congestion further slowing help from getting in.

Bodies everywhere

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 story wear masks to blunt the growing stench as they decompose.

The macabre sight may be the tip of the iceberg.

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 of homes covered over by mud and debris.

Worst typhoon?

Typhoon Haiyan may have hit the Philippines with the strongest sustained cyclone winds on record at 195 mph. It is too early for scientists to tell.

Gusts reported at first landfall rose to 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 photographer Jim Edds was shocked by Haiyan, even before the cyclone hit Tacloban, where he waited for 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."

He feels that their frequent exposure to typhoons caused Filipinos to underestimate this monster storm.

"I don't think they knew what was coming," he said. "They get typhoons in Philippines all the time. But my estimation is they say, 'okay, another typhoon. It's the same drill whether it's a 1 or a 5.'"

They went through their usual routine of riding out storms, and then the storm surge rolled over them, Edds believes.

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

'Worse than hell'

Haiyan struck Friday, sending a wall of water crashing into neighborhoods of wooden houses along the Gulf of Leyte and flinging large ships ashore like toys.

Magina Fernandez, who was trying to get out of Tacloban at the city's crippled airport, described the situation there as "worse than hell."

"Get international help to come here now -- not tomorrow, now," she said, directing some of her anger at Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, who toured some of the hardest-hit areas Sunday.

Aid pledges began to pour in on Monday -- $25 million from the United Nations, 3 million euros ($4 million) from the European Union, 10 million pounds ($16 million) from Britain and $10 million from the United Arab Emirates, home to a large population of expatriate Filipino workers.

U.N. and U.S. civilian disaster assessment teams were on the scene. U.S. Marines based in Japan worked to outfit Tacloban's shattered airport with lights, radar and other gear to allow it to operate 24 hours a day.

The United States also announced that the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and three escort ships have been dispatched to the Philippines to assist in recovery efforts. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the carrier to head for the islands at "best speed" from Hong Kong, where it was on a port visit, the Pentagon said. Two other American vessels, including a supply ship, are already headed for the Phillippines, the Pentagon said.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is sending emergency shelter materials and basic hygiene supplies to aid 10,000 families as well as 55 metric tons of emergency rations sufficient to feed 20,000 children and 15,000 adults for up to five days. Both shipments were expected to arrive this week, the agency said.

And British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Monday night that his government was also sending a cargo plane and the destroyer HMS Daring to assist, he said.

Difficult assessment

Authorities are trying to establish the level of destruction elsewhere along Haiyan's path, and other settlements along the coast are likely to have suffered a similar fate to Tacloban's.

Aid workers said the recovery from Haiyan will take many months.

"This disaster on such a scale will probably have us working for the next year," said Sandra Bulling, international communications officer for the aid agency CARE. "Fishermen have lost their boats. Crops are devastated. This is really the basic income of many people."

Across the Gulf of Leyte lies Samar, where Haiyan made its first of six deadly landfalls on the Philippines on Friday. Government and aid officials say they are still trying to reach many affected communities on that island.

A similar challenge exists farther west, on the islands of Cebu and Panay, which also suffered direct hits from the typhoon.

Aquino declared a "state of national calamity," which allows more latitude in rescue and recovery operations and gives the government power to set the prices of basic goods. Authorities are funneling aid on military planes to Tacloban's airport, which resumed limited commercial flights Monday. As aid workers, government officials and journalists came in, hundreds of residents waited in long lines hoping to get out.

Incredible losses

The problems are the same in other stricken regions.

"The main challenges right now are related to logistics," said Praveen Agrawal of the U.N.'s World Food Programme, who returned to Manila from the affected areas Sunday. "Roads are blocked, airports are destroyed."

Another dire scene played out in the city's only functioning hospital over the weekend. Doctors couldn't admit any more wounded victims because there wasn't enough room. Some injured lay in the hospital's cramped hallways seeking treatment.

"We haven't anything left to help people with," one doctor said. "We have to get supplies in immediately."

Complicating the search efforts is the lack of electricity in many parts of the storm's path.

The northern part of Bogo, in the central Philippines, suffered a blackout Sunday, and authorities said it will take months to restore power.

Paula Hancocks and Ivan Watson reported from Tacloban; Matt Smith reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Jethro Mullen, Catherine E. Shoichet, Neda Farshbaf, Andrew Stevens, Kristie Lu Stout, Aliza Kassim, Kevin Wang, Jessica King, Pedram Javaheri, David Simpson and Yousuf Basil contributed to this report.