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Typhoon survivors facing hunger, squalor

Despair growing in Philippines; 4 million ousted from their homes

Residents played basketball with a makeshift net in an area of Tacloban, Philippines, destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, leaving 4 million people displaced.
Residents played basketball with a makeshift net in an area of Tacloban, Philippines, destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, leaving 4 million people displaced.KEVIN FRAYER/GETTY IMAGES

BASEY, Philippines — When Typhoon Haiyan hit this coastal town, residents ran for Saint Michael the Archangel Church. Now, 10 days later, more than 100 of them remain.

“I was in my house, but it was destroyed,” said Belen Cabonce, 87. “We ran for higher ground, and this was it. Some people stayed in houses trying to hold on, but most of them came here.”

She has lived in the church since, sleeping on a wet pew, wondering when the next shipment of relief goods will arrive.

She has not heard from her two children in Tacloban, the city that lost more than 800 people, since the storm hit on Nov. 8.


As the Philippines begins to clean up after the worst typhoon in memory, it is faced with a huge problem of feeding and housing its displaced population. The government says about 4 million people have been displaced, with some 350,000 living in about 1,500 evacuation centers.

“The evacuation centers are an increasing concern,” said Matthew Cochrane, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Places such as the Tacloban City Convention Center, an indoor basketball arena that is now home to some 2,500 displaced people, are straining under the lack of sanitation and basic supplies.

“People are living in squalid conditions in need of as much support as they can get,” Cochrane said.

In addition, about 2.5 million people require food aid. “The most pressing need is food,” Cochrane said.

Basey’s mayor, Junji Ponferrada, 43, estimated that the storm damaged or destroyed the homes of one third of the population of this city of 51,000 in Samar province. He struggles to feed and house them all.

“People are saying, ‘We don’t want a message of hope. We want food,’ ” he said.

More than $270 million in foreign aid has been donated to help the victims of the typhoon, which killed at least 3,976 people and left nearly 1,600 missing, according to government figures updated Monday.


Amid concerns that some of that aid money may be illegally diverted, the government of President Benigno Aquino III announced Monday it has established a website called the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub where funds given by foreign donors can be tracked, the Associated Press reported.

Corruption is a concern after any major natural disaster, as millions of dollars in cash and goods rush in from around the world. But those worries are especially acute in the Philippines, where graft has been a part of life for decades.

Despite the hardships, some battered communities in the disaster zone appeared to be shifting from survival mode to one of recovery Monday. Markets were reopening, though with very limited wares. Some gasoline stations were pumping, and residents were repairing damaged homes or making temporary shelters out of the remains of their old ones.

Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla pledged to restore electric power in all typhoon-battered regions by Dec. 24, a job that will require erecting about 160 giant power transmission towers and thousands of electrical posts toppled by the typhoon. He said he will resign if he fails, the AP said.

The Basey District Hospital, which is on a hill in the city facing the church, suffered extensive damage. But a few rooms survived, allowing the primary care hospital to provide basic services, including delivering babies and treating diarrhea caused by unclean water, said Dr. Jessamine Elona, 33.


Ponferrada said other towns and provinces have been the chief suppliers of aid to his city, where 191 died in the storm and 39 were missing.

In the basketball arena, a medical team from Camarines Sur province offered medicines and minor surgery. A group from Manila scouted how to distribute its five truckloads of goods and where to station five doctors. At the church, a runners club from Samar handed out 6.5-pound bags of rice, crackers, and bottles of water to a long line of people.

Four trucks from the Japan International Cooperation Agency arrived with 77 bundles of plastic, each 165 feet long, for building basic tents.

The narrow waterfront drive had only recently been cleared of debris by teams from the Metro Manila Development Authority.