MANILA — Drenched by rain and increasingly desperate, typhoon-stricken Filipinos rushed fences and pleaded with guards Tuesday at the battered airport serving as a tenuous lifeline to an international aid effort confronted at every turn by transport and logistics bottlenecks.
The United Nations launched an appeal for $301 million to help victims. The chief of its humanitarian operations, Valerie Amos, arrived in Manila, the capital, to coordinate the relief effort and quickly acknowledged the difficulties it faced.
“We have not been able to get into the remote areas,” Amos said. Even in Tacloban, she said, the main city in the typhoon’s path and the site of the airport, “because of the debris and the difficulties with logistics and so on, we have not been able to get in the level of supply that we would want to.”
In its appeal for funds, the U.N. estimated that more than 11 million people had been affected by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever to hit land, with 660,000 left homeless. The official death toll was nearly 1,800, and that figure is expected to rise substantially. More than 2,500 were injured.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III downplayed widespread estimates that 10,000 or more people might have died, telling CNN that the figure was more likely 2,000 to 2,500 people.
The higher estimate came from local officials soon after the storm swept through early Friday, and may have been the result of “emotional trauma,” Aquino said.
Still, it’s clear that relief workers have not yet reached many outlying communities, and that it’s proving difficult to move supplies from airfields and ports even into the main cities.
Tacloban’s airport is the only major airfield on the hard-hit island of Leyte. Aid workers say the road from the airport into the city is so clogged with debris and the putrefying remains of the dead that the trip takes three hours. Roads leading inland are impassable.
Amos said money was needed for “food, health, sanitation, shelter, debris removal and also protection of the most vulnerable.”
Before her arrival, the U.N. released $25 million in emergency funds. Other governments, including the United States, Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Australia and South Korea, pledged tens of millions more. Filipinos working overseas, who account for about 10% of the Philippine population, were also organizing efforts to send money and aid.
U.S. and British warships were moving into position off the Philippine coast to help with the relief effort. In addition to the aircraft carrier George Washington, Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, head of the U.S. military relief effort, said he needed Navy amphibious ships to help deliver supplies.
Marines based in Okinawa were dispatched along with sailors and have begun to deliver aid.
The White House said President Obama spoke with Aquino by telephone Tuesday and that the United States would deliver “whatever help we can, as quickly as possible.”
Katherine Manik, country director for ChildFund International, said a relief crew was able to reach the city of Ormoc on the other side of Leyte by boat, but couldn’t move far from the dock.
“There is a critical need for fresh drinking water and food, but it is very difficult to get anything in. There aren’t enough boats. There is no electricity,” she said.
Even at the makeshift clinic next to the Tacloban airport, to which the Philippine air force’s C-130 cargo planes have been making regular runs from Manila, aid workers said they had no medicine to treat emergency cases.
Among the many risks, medical workers say, are tetanus infections as people try to salvage items from their homes or build shelters. But there is no tetanus vaccine available, Capt. Antonio Tamayo of the Philippine air force told the Inquirer Daily News.
One difficulty is that the local government infrastructure has disappeared. Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez told reporters that of 1,300 police officers, only 100 were coming to work.
Telephones are not working and local radio is out. One radio anchorman in Tacloban who stayed on the air during the storm using generators was presumed to have drowned. No one has heard from him since the program abruptly went off the air.
Although there were warnings for days about the typhoon and hundreds of thousands of people took heed and evacuated, many others didn’t. The Philippines suffers frequent tropical storms, and some residents apparently thought they could survive this one as well.
Warner Passanisi, global emergency response coordinator at ChildFund, said the storm made landfall nine times at different locations in the archipelago nation. “You had not just the wind, but the tidal surges and the swelling of water,” he said.
Those who survived the punishing winds and storm surge — estimated by some at 20 feet — have since dealt with pouring rain, which tapered off during the day Tuesday. Some were able to obtain tents sent by relief agencies.
Many crowded the airport, where Philippine and U.S. cargo planes were bringing in aid. But military officials said the airport could work only during daylight because of the lack of electricity. Mothers held their babies over their heads, hoping that would gain them a seat on a flight leaving the storm zone.
Philippine military officers said they had evacuated nearly 3,000 people. But many more were waiting, and local news reports said they twice tried to rush arriving cargo planes.
Just after dawn, several thousand rushed through a broken fence toward two Philippine air force C-130s, but they were held back by police and soldiers. Later, police held back another group that tried to rush a U.S. plane.
Bodies, some covered with sheets of galvanized metal or wrapped in blankets, had not yet been picked up from roads leading to the airport or at many other locations in Tacloban.
Narcissa Abordo, 65, was left to deal with the anguish of having survived the storm — even though she urged her son to let her die — while the grandchildren she tried to protect did not.
Abordo, who ran a boardinghouse, was caring for the children to help out a daughter who lives in Manila.
When the storm hit, there was a rushing sound and a “black whirlpool of water,” she said. Abordo passed the boy and girl to her boarders, who took them to the second floor of a neighbor’s house. The water, she said, rose more than 10 feet in 10 seconds.
Abordo and her son were swept past one tin roof after another, as they tried to grab on to whatever electric wires they passed. She can’t swim, and she survived only because her son carried her on his shoulders.
She said she told him, “Please save yourself — I am already old. You can leave me. You are young.” He refused.
Abordo said she would never understand what exactly happened to her grandchildren. She was told that one child was frightened and jumped into the rising water. Shortly after, the other did the same. The children, she was told, were crying and yelling, “Mama, Mama, Papa….”
Her grandson’s body has been found; the granddaughter is still missing.
“But I think she is nearby,” Abordo said, “because I saw her skirt when I walked down a street.”