Typhoon-hit town feels forgotten as aid passes by

Typhoon-hit town feels forgotten as aid passes by

November 15th, 2013 by Associated Press in Local - Breaking News

Children run towards a U.S. military aircraft as it arrives to distribute aid to Typhoon Haiyan survivors in the destroyed town of Guiuan, Philippines on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. Though aid has started to arrive in Guiuan, in the nearby town of Marabut residents complained that aid has been far too slow to come.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

MARABUT, Philippines - Helicopters crisscross the skies constantly above this typhoon-wrecked Filipino town. In the ruins below, hungry residents look up anxiously every time they pass.

The choppers have yet to drop off any aid, and the desperate residents of Marabut are starting to wonder if they ever will.

"We feel totally forgotten," local government official Mildred Labado said, staring across the ruins of her once-picturesque town.

Medical supplies are so short here that the injured are covering their wounds with masking tape instead of gauze. Women are using shattered wooden planks of homes for cooking fires.

"Help me!" some children in Marabut shouted to a journalist. "Put me on Facebook!"

"People are still in a state of shock," Labado said. "They don't know what to do. They don't know where to start. They're only thinking about survival, about food and water. They can't even begin to think about what comes next."

Marabut is across San Pedro and San Pablo Bay from Tacloban, the eastern Philippine city where Typhoon Haiyan wreaked its most gruesome destruction last week, killing hundreds of people. The storm reduced both Marabut and Tacloban to grim junkyards of rubble, but here the death toll was much lower.

Mayor Percival Ortillo Jr. said every one of Marabut's 15,946 homes was destroyed in the typhoon, and more than 2,000 people were injured, but only 20 people are confirmed dead and eight others are missing. He said the death toll was relatively low because most people managed to take refuge in concrete buildings -- the only structures standing amid a sea of wooden debris -- and five caves set high in hills.

The United Nations says the storm affected 11 million people in all, more than 670,000 of whom lost their homes. The enormity of the task of helping them all has pressed the resources of the Philippines hard.

Survivors in all the worst-hit areas have complained that aid has been far too slow to come. On Thursday morning for the first time, pallets of international aid lined the grass runway at Tacloban. In Guiuan, another blown-out city east of Marabut, U.S. Osprey helicopters dropped off French medics and boxes of American food aid in a soccer field. But far less aid has come to Marabut, a four-hour drive from Guiuan, the closest town.

"Only places like Tacloban are getting attention," Labado said Thursday. "But we are also victims. We also need help."

Shortly after she spoke, a helicopter landed in a small field in Marabut for the first time, and hundreds of people rushed to the spot. But soldiers aboard only disgorged a few sacks of rice to supply a small military unit occupying a ruined home to boost security.

Minutes later, three trucks filled with sacks of food from the provincial government arrived outside the destroyed municipal headquarters, a two-story building with its roof and windows blown off that now tilts forward slightly. Crowds quickly surrounded the delivery, and a rifle-toting soldier wearing a belt of grenades across his chest stood atop dozens of sacks of rice.

Ortillo welcomed the delivery, but said it was enough only to last a day or two. "It's just not enough," he said.

Fear that supplies will run out have left the town on edge. When a mayoral aide handed out a plastic bag filled with buns to a small crowd of people, they nearly ripped it apart. A few of the town's water taps still function, but people are afraid to drink the water and use it only for washing.

The long-term future looks equally grim.

More than 80 percent of the population in this region makes a living from coconut products, and tens of thousands of denuded palm trees were literally snapped in half or uprooted by winds as high as 315 kph (195 mph) -- including the on vast hills that surround Marabut on all sides but the sea.

The trees will take five to 10 years to grow back, if not more, Ortillo said. The typhoon also destroyed fishing boats, another important source of income.

"The real problem is the people here have no more means of making a living. Their livelihoods have been taken away from them," Ortillo said.

For now, people are salvaging what they can from what is left of their homes and placing these shards of their lives outside the wreckage: family photographs, trophies, seashells and soiled teddy bears.