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Filipinos’ plight improving slowly, aid groups say

Major roads are cleared, fuel now more accessible

Typhoon survivors in an isolated village north of Tacloban rushed for water supplies delivered by a US military helicopter on Sunday.

DAMIR SAGOLJ/REUTERS

Typhoon survivors in an isolated village north of Tacloban rushed for water supplies delivered by a US military helicopter on Sunday.

TACLOBAN, Philippines — International aid groups said Sunday that conditions in the typhoon disaster zone were gradually improving, as more international aid flowed into the country and Philippine community groups expanded their role in the relief effort.

“I think in the last few days we’ve managed to overcome some of the obvious structural and logistical issues,” said Matthew Cochrane, spokesman for the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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Major roads have been cleared, cellphone service is getting better, and fuel is becoming more widely available, Cochrane said. Some electricity is available in small amounts through diesel generators. There is no running water, but people were receiving water supplied by tankers.

“We’re going to be able to push aid out and get assistance to people who need it,” Cochrane said.

“It’s been more than a week; there’s a lot of people who haven’t received assistance. I guess the message is that progress is being made,’’ he said.

But, he added, “we’re very aware that it needs to be more, it needs to be faster, it needs to be better.”

Chris McGrath/Getty Images

A young boy waved to a helicopter from his home’s rooftop in Leyte.

President Benigno Aquino III said Sunday that he will stay in typhoon-battered Leyte province until he sees more progress in the aid effort, the Associated Press reported. Aquino was responding to complaints from survivors that they have yet to receive proper help.

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Aquino is expected to set up camp in Tacloban, the capital of the hard-hit province, but it is not clear where he will find suitable accommodations. Virtually every building in the city was damaged or destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 3,974 people, according to the latest official count released Sunday. The storm left about 1,200 people missing.

Aquino said Sunday that although there has been some progress in the aid effort, it is not enough. The international community has donated aid and cash worth more than $248 million, which is beginning to show improvements on the ground.

‘‘We really want to ease the burden of everybody as soon as possible. As long as I don’t see any more improvements, we’ll stay here,’’ Aquino said, referring to his official team.

  Presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang said Aquino wanted to ensure that the distribution of relief goods goes on smoothly and power is restored soon in this city of 220,000.

On Sunday, thousands of Filipinos, many homeless and grieving, flocked to dozens of churches across the region for their first Sunday Mass since the typhoon struck. More than 80 percent of the 90 million people in the Philippines are Roman Catholic.

The Nov. 8 storm destroyed much of the local government’s ability to function. “Ninety percent of the police were not able to show up for the first few days, and even today you’ve got maybe less than 40 percent of them going to work because they themselves are victims,” Caradang said.

The national government has had to step in, sending police officers and troops, including about 1,000 to Tacloban, although local officials have called the response inadequate.

As local governments saw their capacities greatly diminished by the storm, religious and community groups have vastly expanded their roles.

In Tacloban, Ofelia Casio, who had volunteered as a secretary for a local nongovernmental organization before the storm, is now the unofficial representative for thousands who have been left homeless.

Casio, 46, a widow who had worked in a butcher shop before Typhoon Haiyan struck, is trying to maintain order in the Tacloban City Convention center, where she and thousands of others sought shelter during the storm.

The center has become a temporary shelter for about 2,500 people living without power and short of food, water, sanitation, and security.

Casio fell into the job of manager after riding out the storm with more than 4,000 other evacuees in the convention center, known locally as the Astrodome. The water rose to a depth of nearly 6 feet on the basketball court, she said, sending people scrambling for the second-tier seats.

One person died in the center during the storm, said Casio and Tacloban’s mayor, Alfred S. Romualdez. Casio’s home was destroyed, but her children and grandchildren survived.

“If there’s any organization that comes, I represent the people,” Casio said. “If there’s any donations, I take the list of families and match it with what they need.”

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