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Typhoon survivors face desperate conditions as they await aid

November 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: The president of the Philippines declared a state of emergency today in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Vast stretches of the central part of the country lay in ruins, especially the city of Tacloban, where officials warned there could be thousands dead. For now, the confirmed death toll stands at 942.

We begin with a report from Angus Walker of Independent Television News in Tacloban.

You may find some of the images disturbing.

ANGUS WALKER: Tacloban City, survivors call it ground zero, the old coast road a route rubble for mile after mile, entire neighborhoods washed away. Tens of thousands of families lived around busy marketplaces and backstreets. Now parents scavenge for food. There’s no power, no phone signal, no Internet, no other way to send a message.

The local marketplace, one of the worst-affected areas in Tacloban, all these shops and houses made of wood now a pile of tangled timber. Nothing here stood a chance just 100 meters from sea.

There were hundreds fishermen’s huts here. Now only the stilts they stood on are left, snapped off by the wind and the waves. The dead float in the sea which once gave them a living and offered a future.

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Raya al-Massira, eight months pregnant, shows me the house, one of the few made of concrete, that her father had sheltered in.

WOMAN: We were not able to save our father. It’s very sad. We were in this house because it’s big. But when the water hit, they are thrown down and they all died.

ANGUS WALKER: Everywhere, there are bodies, four days on and in the baking heat.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the stench of death hangs over this entire city. Behind this pile of debris are the bodies of two adults and a child. It’s too distressing to show.

We find a group of men using a lorry to take away the dead. They fill the truck. When we speak to one of them, Alexander Dosina (ph), he says six of corpses are his own family, his mother, his wife and four children.

Four children, you have lost?

MAN (through interpreter): Four children, one mother, and one wife.

ANGUS WALKER: It’s difficult to comprehend the loss of life, of homes, difficult to understand how people can have faith when they have nothing left.

GWEN IFILL: A short time ago, I spoke to Save the Children’s Lynette Lim, who rode out the storm in Tacloban, and is now in Manila to help coordinate relief efforts.

Lynette, we know you are Manila tonight, but you were in Tacloban up until yesterday. Tell us what you saw.

LYNETTE LIM, Save the Children: Well, yes.

After the storm had struck, everyone went inside and it was just a complete mess. There was debris everywhere, entire patches of things completely flattened. Children and their families were coming out of the evacuation centers trying to return home to salvage what little they could.

But, obviously, there was nothing much they could do. There was also no food. There was no water. There was no sanitation facility. Many people had depended on the government to be able to provide all of the basic necessities.

But children and their families found absolutely nothing. And by Saturday morning, 24 hours after the storm, they were growingly desperate, and by midday Saturday, widespread looting had taken place all around the city.

GWEN IFILL: While you were there, did you see any evidence of any relief supplies reaching people yet?

LYNETTE LIM: No, not yet.

The city officials, as well as local government units, were incapacitated, and therefore were not working with the military that were arriving to deliver the goods quickly to the affected people in Tacloban City. They were largely dependent on the national government to step in at this point and provide the relief that was needed for everyone in the city.

GWEN IFILL: When you talk about relief, how would you prioritize what is needed first?

LYNETTE LIM: Well, certainly, I think the most important point to ask is, what is necessary for children and their families to survive?

And, here, it would be food, it would be clean water, a shelter, as well as sanitation facility. Those are key for these people to ride out at least the next couple weeks, before we find a way to rehabilitate the entire area. Schools have also been destroyed, so all of that needs to be reconstructed and rehabilitated as well.

GWEN IFILL: Where are people sleeping now until these supplies reach them? Are they just on the streets?

LYNETTE LIM: Yes, some of them are on the streets, while others are in buildings or in evacuation centers. But many of these evacuation centers are — I mean, by the time I reached it just 24 to 36 hours after the storm, the smell in there was absolutely terrible.

I saw children walking around openly defecating. There was no waste management at all in this place. There were no portable toilets, unlike disasters. And there was absolutely nothing to support these families. So, many would come out of the evacuation centers during the day and set up their nets outside while waiting for relief to come.

And then at night, if it’s raining, they would go inside and wait for the rain to stop before returning outside because the smell is simply intolerable.

GWEN IFILL: That relief can’t get there soon enough.

Lynette Lim of Save the Children, thank you so much for filling us in.

LYNETTE LIM: You’re welcome.