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Storm debris continues to be obstacle to typhoon relief efforts

November 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Relief supplies have been slow to reach typhoon victims due to physical obstacles slowing down delivery. The lack of aid and growing desperation have led to a "breakdown of peace and order" in the hardest hit regions. Gwen Ifill talks to Richard Gordon of the Philippine Red Cross about the challenges.
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GWEN IFILL: For more on that growing state of desperation in the wake of Haiyan, we turn to Richard Gordon, the chairman of the Red Cross in the Philippines. I spoke to him a short while ago by telephone.

Richard Gordon, welcome, and thank you for joining us.

You are now in Manila, but we’re hearing reports about chaos breaking out in the hardest-hit regions of the Philippines. Is the desire for relief now turning into desperation?

RICHARD GORDON, Philippine Red Cross: Well, yes, a certain amount, if not a significant amount, of desperation going on because of the slowness of the relief effort, principally because of the difficulties in access, considerably hard conditions brought about by fallen debris, trees, poles.

And then you have security issues. There has been some form of a breakdown of peace and order, in the sense that a lot of people are getting — their stores are being intruded upon. And there are difficult issues. You know, communications are down up to now, not been good. So there’s great difficulty.

People are getting very anxious, because, you know, you see your homes totally demolished, and your children are hungry or dead. Certainly, people will turn to desperation and plead whoever is left there trying to get somebody on the spot in order to survive.

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GWEN IFILL: How has the government response been?

RICHARD GORDON: Well, the government initially was — they ordered the mass evacuations, to be fair, but, unfortunately, the language element came in.

There wasn’t very much explained to the public that there was going to be storm surges. And storm surges up to this point have been unknown. It might have been better if they had described it as mini-tidal waves caused by the winds that would cause death. So many people have suffered because of that and died.

But the government is exacerbating the problem by not speeding up the effort to try and allow more flights to get in, allow more ships to get in, in the sense that they must repair the infrastructure, must repair the highways a lot faster. And the army and police should be able to have a very good grip and a strong enforcement of peace and order.

GWEN IFILL: How is your staff doing? How is it coping with getting the information, getting the water, the food, the shelter to where it needs to go?

RICHARD GORDON: Well, now that we’re in, we have three truckloads — three containers of trucks. They’re bringing 25,000 liters of water and refill.

We’re going to refill it by having water filtration plants established there. We have food that we’re going to bring in. It’s already there. And also we have tents so that we can provide hospitals or even pregnant mothers or — some privacy, and, certainly, a lot of other stuff like medicines.

And we’re also helping out by clearing. We have a lot of people that we are plotting who are going to clear streets, go into the other towns with chain saws and concrete saws. So, hopefully, with about 65 people in place, we can be a lot better and more secure.

GWEN IFILL: Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, thank you so much for joining us on the phone.

RICHARD GORDON: Thank you very much.

GWEN IFILL: Overall, it turns out, this has been just an average year for tropical storms. The U.N. Weather Agency reported today there have been 86 storms worldwide, three short of the annual average since 1981.

The Atlantic hurricane season was the quietest since 1994. But northwestern regions of the Pacific Ocean have had more storms than usual, including Typhoon Haiyan.