23 Nov 2013

Typhoon Haiyan worst disaster for Philippines

3:04 pm on 23 November 2013

The death toll from Typhoon Haiyan which slammed across the central Philippines has risen to more than 5200, making it the most deadly natural disaster ever to hit the country.

Officials said nearly 23,500 people were injured and more than 1,600 were still missing from the typhoon, which also displaced more than four million.

The previous worst was a 1991 storm that killed 5101 people in flash floods in Ormoc, in the same province of Leyte devastated by Haiyan. The exact toll given by the National Disaster Agency on Friday was 5209.

Most of the victims of the massive storm on 8 November either drowned or were crushed by collapsed structures and trees, as storm surges six to seven metres high swallowed coastal areas of Tacloban on Leyte island.

Disaster agency officials say the death toll could still go up, as little over half the city of Tacloban has been cleared of debris.

About 12 billion pesos ($NZ332 million) worth of crops and infrastructure were damaged.

Disaster management council spokesperson Reynaldo Balido says the death toll rose sharply after officials reported body counts from communities outside the worst-hit areas.

Hundreds of bodies are still being retrieved from the rubble of Typhoon Haiyan, every day. For the volunteers who help with this, it is a grim but vital task.

On the seafront at Tacloban city, young volunteers from the Philippines Red Cross have the gruesome job of recovering a corpse which a neighbour has told them lies inside.

"It's hard to retrieve the dead bodies because there's so much debris," says Don Erickson-Orge, who has travelled from Manila to help.

The BBC reports that it is a delicate operation, which is distressing to watch. Moments later a body, wrapped in plastic is lifted out.

"I feel sad to see the dead bodies, but this is our job" says Mr Erickson-Orge. "We must do it for the sake of Tacloban city," he adds stoically. His team, which works for two weeks at a time, will be given counselling and support to help them deal with what they have seen.

Bodies await burial space

"The challenge is when the bodies are already submerged in the water because it's already decomposed, and the smell is not good so that is a hard thing," says Mr Erickson-Orge.

Many believe the official toll of over 5000 will climb far higher as victims continue to be pulled from the wreckage: As many as 100 bodies are still being recovered each day in Tacloban alone.

Government workers collect corpses which wash ashore. In the intense and unrelenting heat, the smell of death lingers, but themen are guided by a police officer, who tells me one of the victims they've found is a former American soldier, identified by his tattoo.

His body is left to one side, so US officials can make further enquiries while the rest of the victims, eight Filipinos, are loaded one by one into a van heading to the morgue, which is already at capacity.

Rows of white body bags lie symmetrically along the road, waiting to be buried.

A volunteer, Ferdinand working with the fire service. says the bodies will be taken to a graveyard soon, but the existing one is full. Three new cemeteries have been built .

While many people are tasked with ensuring aid reaches those who survived, there are others who are helping ensure there is dignity for the dead.