• Americans among victims: The State Department says two Americans have died in the typhoon tragedy in the Philippines. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki says that number could go up as the department receives additional information. She says the U.S. Embassy in Manila is providing consular assistance to the families of those who died. She says a team of embassy officials planned to travel to the impacted area on Wednesday to further assist victims.
• U.S. warships headed to region: A Navy official says the U.S. has decided to send two amphibious warships to the Philippines to help with disaster relief. The official says the USS Germantown and USS Ashland will get underway soon from Sasebo, Japan, where they are deployed. Pentagon press secretary George Little said the department is working to send whatever is needed to help the Philippines. The USS George Washington was already en route with massive amounts of water and food, but the Pentagon said the aircraft carrier won't arrive until Thursday. The U.S. also said it is providing $20 million in immediate aid.
• Free calls and texts offered: AT&T and Verizon are offering free calls and texts to the Philippines for customers trying to contact friends and family there. AT&T wireless customers will be eligible for unlimited calls and texts until Nov. 30. Landline and U-verse voice customers will get up to 60 minutes of direct-dial calling to the Philippines. The offer is retroactive to last Friday. That was when the typhoon hit the island nation, displacing more than 600,000 people. Verizon is waiving charges on residential landlines through Dec. 7, also retroactive to Friday.
Desperately needed food, water and medical aid are only trickling into the city that took the worst blow from Typhoon Haiyan, while thousands of victims jammed the damaged airport Tuesday, seeking to be evacuated.
“We need help. Nothing is happening. We haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon,” pleaded a weeping Aristone Balute, an 81-year-old woman who failed to get a flight out of Tacloban for Manila, the capital. Her clothes were soaked from a pouring rain and tears streamed down her face.
Five days after what could be the Philippines’ deadliest disaster, humanitarian aid is finally accelerating — pallets of supplies and teams of doctors are waiting to get into Tacloban — but the challenges of delivering the assistance means very few in the stricken city have received help.
The devastation apparent during an 8-mile drive into the city center made the extent of the challenge clear. Mounds of debris up to 15 feet high towered next to the main road. Concrete pillars and other hazards had fallen into the traffic lanes, forcing drivers, motorcyclists and pedestrians to dodge and weave.
“There is a huge amount that we need to do. We have not been able to get into the remote communities,” U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said in Manila, launching an appeal for $301 million to help the more than 11 million people estimated to be affected by the storm.
“Even in Tacloban, because of the debris and the difficulties with logistics and so on, we have not been able to get in the level of supply that we would want to. We are going to do as much as we can to bring in more,” she said. Her office said she planned to visit the city.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said relief goods were getting into the city, and the supply should increase now that the airport and a bridge to the island were open.
“We are not going to leave one person behind — one living person behind,” he said. “We will help, no matter how difficult, no matter how inaccessible.”
Tacloban, a city of about 220,000 people on Leyte island, bore the full force of the winds and the tsunami-like storm surges Friday. Most of the city is in ruins, a tangled mess of destroyed houses, cars and trees. Malls, garages and shops have all been stripped of food and water by hungry residents.
The loss of life appears to be concentrated in Tacloban and surrounding areas, including a portion of Samar island that is separated from Leyte island by a strait. It is possible that other devastated areas are so isolated they have not yet been reached.
Doctors in Tacloban said they were desperate for medicine. At small makeshift clinic with shattered windows beside the city’s ruined airport tower, army and air force medics said they had treated around 1,000 people for cuts, bruises, lacerations and deep wounds.
“It’s overwhelming,” said air force Capt. Antonio Tamayo. “We need more medicine. We cannot give anti-tetanus vaccine shots because we have none.”
The longer survivors go without access to clean water, food, shelter and medical help, the greater chance of disease breaking out and people dying as a result of wounds sustained in the storm.
Thousands of typhoon victims were trying to get out of Tacloban. They camped at the airport and ran onto the tarmac when planes came in, surging past a broken iron fence and a few soldiers and police trying to control them. Most didn’t make it aboard the military flights out of the city.
The official death toll from the disaster rose to 1,774 on Tuesday, though authorities have said they expect that to rise markedly. They fear estimates of 10,000 dead are accurate and might be low.
******(STORY CAN END HERE — REST IS OPTIONAL)*******
Decomposing bodies now litter the streets or are buried in the debris.
There is also growing concern about recovering corpses from throughout the disaster zone. “It really breaks your heart when you see them,” said Maj. Gen. Romeo Poquiz, commander of the 2nd Air Division.
“We’re limited with manpower, the expertise, as well as the trucks that have to transport them to different areas for identification,” Poquiz said. “Do we do a mass burial, because we can’t identify them anymore? If we do a mass burial, where do you place them?”
Most Tacloban residents spent a rainy night wherever they could — in the ruins of destroyed houses, in the open along roadsides and shredded trees. Some slept under tents brought in by the government or relief groups.
“There is no help coming in. They know this is a tragedy. They know our needs are urgent. Where is the shelter?” said Aristone Balute’s granddaughter, Mylene, who was also at the airport. “We are confused. We don’t know who is in charge.”