The IDF on Sunday sent a preliminary assessment team of five officers, “experts in the fields of search, rescue, and medicine,” to disaster-struck Philippines where a typhoon is believed to have killed as many as 10,000 people since it hit Friday.
The team, under the Home Front Command, set out “in order to closely form a situation assessment and infrastructure evaluation that would determine the best rapid response the IDF could offer to the Government of the Philippines,” the military said in a statement.
Israel’s emergency medical, ambulance, disaster and blood bank service, Magen David Adom (MDA) was reportedly considering sending a team to assist the International Red Cross working in the Philippines.
Israeli aid delegation IsraAID said Saturday that it will also send a team this week to assist local NGOs and UN agencies in treating hundreds of thousands of people affected by a powerful typhoon.
The IsraAID team, supported by the AJC and Jewish communities in North America, will be comprised of medical, trauma and relief professionals.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) announced Saturday that it too would contribute to disaster relief efforts by collecting funds for the Philippines.
“Responding to a quickly rising death toll and catastrophic destruction, JDC staff experts are consulting with local authorities, the Filipino Jewish community, and global partners to assess the unfolding situation on the ground and ensure survivors’ immediate needs are addressed,” the organization said in a statement Saturday.
“These efforts are especially poignant for us given the Philippines’s life-saving actions during the Second World War when the country offered safe haven to more than 1,000 Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi onslaught. It is our privilege today to honor that historic debt,” said Alan H. Gill, JDC’s Chief Executive Officer.
Typhoon Haiyan hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines on Friday and quickly barreled across its central islands, packing winds of 235 kph (147 mph) that gusted to 275 kph (170 mph), and a storm surge of 6 meters (20 feet).
Even in a nation regularly beset by earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical storms, Typhoon Haiyan appears to be the deadliest natural disaster on record.
As the scale of devastation became clear Sunday, officials said emergency crews could find more bodies when they reach parts of the archipelago cut off by flooding and landslides. Desperate residents raided grocery stores and gas stations in search of food, fuel and water as the government began relief efforts and international aid operations got underway.
Haiyan’s sustained winds weakened to 120 kph (74 mph) as the typhoon made landfall in northern Vietnam early Monday after crossing the South China Sea, according to the Hong Kong meteorological observatory. Authorities there evacuated hundreds of thousands of people.
Hardest hit in the Philippines was Leyte Island, where regional Police Chief Elmer Soria said the provincial governor had told him there were about 10,000 dead, primarily from drowning and collapsed buildings. Most were in Tacloban, the provincial capital of about 200,000 people that is the biggest city on the island.
Reports also trickled in indicating deaths elsewhere on the island.
On Samar Island, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office said 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 were missing, with some towns yet to be reached by rescuers. He pleaded for food and water, adding that power was out and there was no cellphone signal, making communication possible only by radio.
Reports from other affected islands indicated dozens, perhaps hundreds more deaths.
With communications still knocked out in many areas, it was unclear how authorities were arriving at their estimates of the number of people killed, and it will be days before the full extent of the storm is known.
“On the way to the airport, we saw many bodies along the street,” said Philippine-born Australian Mila Ward, 53, who was waiting at the Tacloban airport to catch a military flight back to Manila, about 580 kilometers (360 miles) to the northwest. “They were covered with just anything — tarpaulin, roofing sheets, cardboard.” She said she passed “well over 100″ bodies.
In one part of Tacloban, a ship had been pushed ashore and sat amid damaged homes.
Haiyan inflicted serious damage to at least six of the archipelago’s more than 7,000 islands, with Leyte, Samar and the northern part of Cebu appearing to bear the brunt of the storm. About 4 million people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.
Video from Eastern Samar province’s Guiuan township — the first area where the typhoon made landfall — showed a trail of devastation. Many houses were flattened and roads were strewn with debris and uprooted trees. The ABS-CBN video showed several bodies on the street, covered with blankets.
“Even me, I have no house, I have no clothes. I don’t know how I will restart my life, I am so confused,” an unidentified woman said, crying. “I don’t know what happened to us. We are appealing for help. Whoever has a good heart, I appeal to you — please help Guiuan.”
The Philippine National Red Cross said its efforts were hampered by looters, including some who attacked trucks of food and other relief supplies it was shipping to Tacloban from the southern port of Davao.
Tacloban’s two largest malls and grocery stores were looted, and police guarded a fuel depot. About 200 police officers were sent into Tacloban to restore law and order.
With other rampant looting reported, President Benigno Aquino III said he was considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in Tacloban. A state of emergency usually includes curfews, price and food supply controls, military or police checkpoints and increased security patrols.
The massive casualties occurred even though the government had evacuated nearly 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon.
Aquino flew around Leyte by helicopter on Sunday and landed in Tacloban. He said the government’s priority was to restore power and communications in isolated areas and deliver relief and medical assistance.
Challenged to respond to a disaster of such magnitude, the Philippine government also accepted help from abroad.
UNICEF estimated that 1.7 million children live in areas affected by the typhoon, according to the agency’s representative in the Philippines, Tomoo Hozumi. UNICEF’s supply division in Copenhagen was loading 60 metric tons of relief supplies for an emergency airlift expected to arrive in the Philippines on Tuesday.
“The devastation is … I don’t have the words for it,” Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said. “It’s really horrific. It’s a great human tragedy.”
In Vietnam, about 600,000 people living in the central region who had been evacuated returned to their homes Sunday after a weakened Haiyan changed directions and took aim at the country’s north.
Four people in three central Vietnamese provinces died while trying to reinforce their homes for the storm, the national floods and storms control department said Sunday.