IsraAID will send a team this week to assist local NGOs and UN agencies in treating hundreds of thousands of people affected by a powerful typhoon that hit the Philippines Friday.
The IsraAID team, supported by the AJC and Jewish communities in North America, will be comprised of medical, trauma and relief professionals. The team will work primarily in Tacloban City in Leyte, according to a statement released by IsraAID Saturday.
Rescuers in the central Philippines on Saturday counted hundreds of people dead — with estimates of a death toll topping 1,000 — a day after one of the most powerful typhoons on record ripped through the region, wiping away buildings and leveling seaside homes with massive storm surges.
With communications and roads still cut off, Capt. John Andrews, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority, said he had received “reliable information” by radio from his staff that more than 100 bodies were lying in the streets of the city of Tacloban on hardest-hit Leyte Island. It was one of six islands that Typhoon Haiyan slammed into Friday.
Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda said that the casualty figure “probably will increase,” after viewing aerial photographs of the widespread devastation caused by the typhoon, which was heading toward Vietnam after moving away from the Philippines.
Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, a senior aide to President Benigno Aquino III, said that the number of casualties could not be immediately determined, but that the figure was probably in the range given by Andrews. Government troops were helping recover bodies, he said.
Civil aviation authorities in Tacloban, a city of 200,000 located about 580 kilometers (360 miles) southeast of Manila, reported that the seaside airport terminal was “ruined” by storm surges, Andrews said.
U.S. Marine Col. Mike Wylie, who surveyed the damage in Tacloban prior to possible American assistance, said that the damage to the runway was significant. Military planes were still able to land with relief aid.
“The storm surge came in fairly high and there is significant structural damage and trees blown over,” said Wylie, who is a member of the U.S.-Philippines Military Assistance Group based in Manila.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that America “stands ready to help.”
Joseph de la Cruz, who was attending a meeting in Tacloban when the typhoon struck and hitched a ride on a military plane back to Manila, said he had counted at least 15 bodies.
“A lot of the dead were scattered,” he said, adding that he walked for about eight hours to reach the Tacloban airport.
Weather officials said Haiyan had sustained winds of 235 kph with gusts of 275 kph when it made landfall. By those measurements, Haiyan would be comparable to a strong Category 4 hurricane in the US, nearly in the top category, a 5.
Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are the same thing. They are just called different names in different parts of the world.
Fresh reports emerged Saturday from the devastated areas.
Vice Mayor Jim Pe of Coron town on Busuanga, the last island battered by the typhoon before it blew away to the South China Sea, said most of the houses and buildings there had been destroyed or damaged. Five people drowned in the storm surge and three others are missing, he said by phone.
“It was like a 747 flying just above my roof,” he said, describing the sound of the winds. He said his family and some of his neighbors whose houses were destroyed took shelter in his basement.
Philippine broadcaster ABS-CBN showed fierce winds whipping buildings and vehicles as storm surges swamped Tacloban with debris-laden floodwaters.
In the aftermath, people were seen weeping while retrieving bodies of loved ones inside buildings and on a street that was littered with fallen trees, roofing material and other building parts torn off in the typhoon’s fury. All that was left of one large building whose walls were smashed in were the skeletal remains of its rafters.
ABS-CBN television anchor Ted Failon, who was able to report only briefly Friday from Tacloban, said the storm surge was “like the tsunami in Japan.”
“The sea engulfed Tacloban,” he said, explaining that a major part of the city is surrounded on three sides by the waters between Leyte and Samar islands.
The Philippine television station GMA reported that its news team saw 11 bodies, including that of a child, washed ashore Friday and 20 more bodies at a pier in Tacloban hours after the typhoon ripped through the coastal city.
At least 20 more bodies were taken to a church in nearby Palo town that was used as an evacuation center but had to be abandoned when its roofs were blown away, the TV network reported. TV images showed howling winds peeling off tin roof sheets during heavy rain.
Ferocious winds felled large branches and snapped coconut trees. A man was shown carrying the body of his 6-year-old daughter who drowned, and another image showed vehicles piled up in debris.
Nearly 800,000 people were forced to flee their homes and damage was believed to be extensive. About 4 million people were affected by the typhoon, the national disaster agency said.
Relief workers said they were struggling to find ways to deliver food and other supplies, with roads blocked by landslides and fallen trees.
In western Palawan province, disaster officials said three fishermen died in Coron township after jumping off their anchored boat, which was battered by big waves. One fisherman survived.
The typhoon’s sustained winds weakened Saturday to 163 kph (101 mph) with stronger gusts as it blew farther away from the Philippines toward Vietnam.
Vietnamese authorities in four central provinces began evacuating more than 500,000 people from high risk areas to government buildings, schools and other concrete homes able to withstand strong winds.
“The evacuation is being conducted with urgency,” disaster official Nguyen Thi Yen Linh said from central Danang City, where some 76,000 were being moved to safety.
Hundreds of thousands of others were being taken to shelters in the provinces of Quang Ngai, Quang Nam and Thua Thien Hue. Schools were closed and two deputy prime ministers were sent to the region to direct the preparations.
The typhoon was forecast to make landfall in Vietnam at around 10 a.m. Sunday between Danang and Quang Ngai and move northwest.