CEBU, Philippines - More than two weeks after the massive devastation of typhoon Yolanda in the Visayas, the situation remained dire despite repeated claims by the government that the worst is over.
This is reflected by the increasing number of eva-cuees from the Visayas region arriving in Metro Manila.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)-National Capital Region said the number of evacuees swelled to 2,576 families or 10,088 people yesterday.
“While the situation in urban centers ravaged by Yolanda is slowly picking up, it’s still messy in most areas especially in still isolated areas where government presence is thinly felt,” said an official involved in the disaster and relief operations in Leyte province.
He added that as of yesterday, thousands of people continue to line up at most airports in the Eastern Visayas, most from Tacloban, taking their chances to board military planes if only to escape from the devastation.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II said on Friday that the worst is over in typhoon-ravaged areas in the Visayas as life is now returning to normal.
Comparing to a very sick person, Visayas is now on its way to recovery after being moved out of confinement from an intensive care unit, Roxas said in referring to the havoc left by Yolanda in Central, Eastern and Western Visayas, including parts of Bicol and Southern Tagalog, last Nov. 8.
Roxas said the government, while addressing the basic needs of 906,090 families or more than 10 million persons directly displaced by Typhoon Yolanda, is now slowly shifting to the rehabilitation phase in its ongoing disaster operation in the Visayas.
“It’s just in Tacloban City, where life is slowly picking up. In most areas ravaged by the storm, the situation remain dire with the typhoon-displaced persons are still struggling, daily, to survive,” said the official who along with a disaster team have just completed their rounds in Samar and Leyte areas.
He added the daily struggle of displaced families does only involved securing food packs and drinking waters from government and non-government organization helping them out, but also in coping up the emerging health and emotional problems, mostly involving children.
Health officials added their concerns of respiratory diseases afflicting most of those who were rendered homeless by the typhoon.
Dr. Jim Bernadas, the acting chief typhoon health incident officer for Leyte, said the widespread lack of shelter caused respiratory infections among the survivors. He stressed the need for further international relief to provide tents.
Department of Health chief epidemiologist Eric Tayag said they were verifying reports of 22 tetanus cases in Tacloban.
“That report came from Eastern Visayas and we are verifying it now. We are waiting for updates,” he said.
Many people in the areas battered by Yolanda survived but they sustained injuries and fractures that were not immediately given medical attention, thus, exposing them to tetanus.
Foreign medical teams are also seeing so many cases of respiratory diseases that some of the smaller ones from non-governmental organizations are running out of antibiotics and have to borrow more from other clinics, usually those set up by governments.
“It’s the constant rain while living under a tarpaulin,” said Dr. Ian Norton, the team leader of the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Center, an Australian government group deployed a full field hospital in Tacloban with operating theaters.
Compounding the problem is that residents from all walks of life, from doctors and municipal officials to fishermen and manual laborers, lost every garment they owned when their homes were ripped apart by wind, water or both. Donations of used clothing from abroad have barely started to arrive - red and white plastic bags of clothing were being handed out Friday afternoon along Tacloban’s coastal road.
Most people wear the same T-shirt and shorts, often borrowed, for days on end. They cannot change when they get soaked in the rain, and the constant damp here makes it hard to dry anything.
NDRRMC executive director Eduardo Del Rosario said Yolanda also left 23,501 injured while 1,613 are still missing.
President Aquino, for his part, is saddened by the number of deaths reported that reached more than 5,000.
Malacañang reiterated there was never an attempt to cover up or downplay the number of casualties.
“It’s not right to say that we are holding the numbers because we will not do that. Nobody in his right mind would do that. And also, I would suggest that you go back to the context of the rest of the statement of the President when he mentioned ‘2,000 to 2,500.’ At that time, we have not reached all the areas yet, and he was very clear when he said that,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
“And again...Everybody is just as sad at the number and we’re also not in the position to say whether it’s high or low...Let’s just stick to what the figures are and leave the speculation out of that conversation,” she said.
While the worst is over, according to Roxas, Valte said there was much to be done and the priority of the President had always been to help those who were affected.
She said the situation was stable in the sense that all survivors were being reached with relief goods but the survivors were in need of a lot more help.
Amid criticisms, Valte said the government was really doing what it could given its limitations and starting from zero, among other challenges after systems to respond failed.
“We can assure those who have fallen victims to this typhoon is that the President - you are first and foremost in the President’s mind,” Valte said.
Valte said the displaced people were also being taken care of and they would be asked whether they would go back to their home provinces despite the devastation or would seek help for permanent housing somewhere else. — Philippine Star News Service (FREEMAN)