GUIUAN, Philippines — People swept dirt from the pews and wiped clean the mud-covered, ornate tile floors of a church. The sound of hammers hitting nails and the buzzing of chain saws reverberated in the streets. Debris was piled on corners and set ablaze.
And amid all this activity, a stream of bodies continued their final journey toward a hillside mass grave where nearly 170 had been buried by Friday afternoon. The Philippines’ main disaster agency said Saturday the death toll stood at 3,633 with 12,487 people injured. Another 1,179 people are missing.
Most of the casualties occurred on Leyte and Samar islands.
One week after Typhoon Haiyan razed the eastern part of the Philippines, leaving 600,000 homeless, resilient residents of the disaster zone were rebuilding their lives and those of their neighbors.
An international aid effort gathered steam, highlighted by the helicopter drops conducted from the American aircraft carrier USS George Washington. But the storm victims moved ahead — with or without help from their government or foreign aid groups.
“We’re starting to see the turning of the corner,” said John Ging, a top U.N. humanitarian official in New York. He said 107,500 people have received food assistance so far and 11 foreign and 22 domestic medical teams are in operation, including an Israeli one.
“The field hospital capacity that the Israelis can mobilize is top class, and we have seen it very, very effectively in many other crises as well,” he said.
Peter Degrido, a coast guard reserve, was one of the 35 workers trying to move an overturned passenger bus from a road leading to the airport in Guiuan, a town on Samar island. They hitched the bus to a truck with steel cables and made slow progress. Ahead of them lay many downed electricity poles that must be moved next.
“We’re clearing debris from the roads leading to the airport and the port so that relief goods and medicine can arrive faster,” Degrido said. “It’s devastating to see this. But people are slowly recovering.”
Ging, the U.N. official, said a total of 287,199 houses were hit by the typhoon of which more than half were ruined. Among those who lost their homes was Dionesio de la Cruz.
At 6 a.m., he was hammering together a bed, using scavenged rusty nails. He has already built a temporary shelter out of the remains of his house in Guiuan, about 100 miles from Leyte’s devastated capital of Tacloban.
“Temporary,” he shrugs, referring to the house and their status. “We’re on our own, so we have to do this on our own,” the 40-year-old said as his wife and mother slept on a nearby table. “We’re not expecting anybody to come and help us.”
In signs that relief efforts were picking up, U.S. Navy helicopters flew sorties from the USS George Washington off the coast, dropping water and food to isolated communities. The U.S. military said it will send about 1,000 more troops along with additional ships and aircraft to join the aid effort.
So far, the U.S. military has moved 190 tons of supplies and flown nearly 200 sorties.
“Having the U.S. military here is a game-changer,” said Col. Miguel Okol, a spokesman for the Philippine air force. “For countries that we don’t have these kinds of relationships with, it can take a while to get help. But with the U.S., it’s immediate.”
John Bumanig and his wife were cleaning out their secondhand clothes shop, which was swamped by storm surges. They were laying out bras in the sun, though they weren’t hopeful anyone would buy them. Most of the stock had to be thrown out.
They were determined to stay in Tacloban, but faced an uncertain future.
“We cannot do anything, but will find a way to overcome this,” said his wife, Luisa, holding back tears. “We have to strive hard because we still have children to take care of.”
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