TACLOBAN, Philippines —
The U.S. and other governments and agencies were mounting a major relief effort “because of the magnitude of the disaster,” said Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon.
Even by the standards of the Philippines, which is buffeted by many natural calamities — about 20 typhoons a year, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions — the latest disaster shocked the impoverished nation of 96 million people.
The airport in Tacloban, about 580 kilometers (360 miles) southeast of Manila, looked like a muddy wasteland of debris, with crumpled tin roofs and upturned cars. The airport tower’s glass windows were shattered, and air force helicopters were busy flying in and out at the start of relief operations.
“The devastation is, I don’t have the words for it,” Roxas said. “It’s really horrific. It’s a great human tragedy.”
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Aquino was “speechless” when he told him of the devastation the typhoon had wrought in Tacloban.
“I told him all systems are down,” Gazmin said. “There is no power, no water, nothing. People are desperate. They’re looting.”
The city’s two largest malls and groceries were looted and the gasoline stations destroyed by the typhoon. Police were deployed to guard a fuel depot to prevent looting of fuel.
This morning, the city’s overwhelmed services were reinforced by 100 special police force units sent in from elsewhere to help restore peace and order.
“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 airport to catch a military flight back to Manila.
“They were covered with just anything — tarpaulin, roofing sheets, cardboards,” she said. Asked how many, she said, “Well over 100 where we passed.”
U.S. Marine Col. Mike Wylie surveyed the damage in Tacloban prior to possible American assistance. “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.