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Philippine aid on hold as bodies retrieved

Many in region hungry, homeless

TACLOBAN, Philippines — On a shoreline that was once an entertainment destination in this city, a group of scavengers sorted through piles of debris for anything useful — a rusted drum that might have gasoline, lumber to rebuild their homes, an undamaged fishing net.

Alongside, a team of volunteers from the Philippine Red Cross searched for bodies, a task that has consumed much of aid workers’ time, even as thousands of residents remain hungry and homeless here. They had arrived Thursday after a five-day voyage on a Philippine navy ship from Cavite City that was rerouted to Cebu out of fears that another storm would follow the devastating Typhoon Haiyan.

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The group had originally planned to arrive Sunday on a C-130 from Manila, but had to give way to officials who were flying to Tacloban to survey the damage, according to three of the volunteers.

“So what was supposed to be a rescue operation became a retrieval operation,” said Florabel Fumar, one of the volunteers.

The mayor of Tacloban City, Alfred S. Romualdez, said Friday that the city had 801 confirmed dead. In a sign of the inability of officials to get a handle on basic information about the disaster one week after the typhoon hit here, Romualdez apologized for a figure of 2,000 dead that was released Thursday, which he said was “speculation for the entire region.”

The United Nations has also had trouble reporting on the death toll, with its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reporting 3,600 deaths Friday, a day after saying there had been 4,460. John Ging, the office’s operations director, apologized Friday for the discrepancy, saying the higher number was an estimate and not confirmed deaths.

In Tacloban, the dead are being taken to a mass grave in a public cemetery on the outskirts of the city. Romualdez said just 10 percent to 15 percent of the dead had been identified.

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He said the delivery of the first cycle of food packets, which is supposed to be 6 pounds of rice and some canned goods for each family, was expected to be completed Friday.