TACLOBAN, Philippines: The UN launched an appeal for a third of a billion dollars on Tuesday as US and British warships steamed toward the typhoon-ravaged Philippines where well over 10,000 people are feared dead.
Four days after Super Typhoon Haiyan destroyed entire coastal communities with record winds and tsunami-like waves, the magnitude of the disaster continued to build with almost unimaginable horror.
Festering bodies still littered the streets in many areas, with the smell of rotting flesh hanging in the air and ramping up the fear of disease in the tropical heat.
Increasingly desperate survivors begged for help that was having difficulty reaching them — many still without access to food and water after nights spent in the open.
“We are certainly expecting the worst. As we get more and more access we find the tragedy of more and more people killed in this typhoon,” UN humanitarian operations director John Ging said, after Philippine President Benigno Aquino declared a “state of national calamity.”
The United Nations warned 10,000 people were feared dead in just one city, Tacloban, the provincial capital of Leyte province where five-meter (16-foot) waves flattened nearly everything in their path as they swept hundreds of meters inland.
Nearly 10 million people, or 10 percent of the Philippines’ population, have been affected, while 660,000 have lost their homes.
The United Nations said it had released $25 million in emergency funds to pay for emergency shelter materials and household items, and for assistance with the provision of emergency health services, safe water supplies and sanitation facilities. It’s launching an appeal for more aid. The UN also launched a flash appeal for $301 million.
The aircraft carrier USS George Washington is headed toward the region with massive amounts of water and food, but the Pentagon said it won’t arrive until Thursday. The US also said it is providing $20 million in immediate aid.
Aid totaling tens of millions of dollars has been pledged by many other countries, including Japan, Australia and Britain, which is sending a Royal Navy vessel with aid.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters in Manila the money was needed for “food, health, sanitation, shelter, debris removal and also protection of the most vulnerable.”
“I very much hope our donors will be generous.” Amos praised the international community’s reaction since Haiyan slammed into the Philippines on Friday, but said much more needed to be done in a disaster of almost biblical proportions.
“We have already seen an international and generous response given the horrific pictures that people have seen, particularly on their television screens,” she said.
Overwhelmed and under-resourced rescue workers have been unable to provide desperately needed food, water, medicines, shelter and other relief supplies to many survivors, and desperation has been building across the disaster zones.
“There is nothing here left for us. Our house is gone, we don’t have any money, we don’t have our documents, passports, school records,” Carol Mampas, 48, said at Tacloban’s destroyed airport as she cradled her feverish baby son in a blanket.
“Please, please, tell authorities to help us. Where is the food, where is the water? Where are the military collecting the dead?” Bodies still litter the wreckage, while security concerns are growing as gangs take advantage of a security vacuum to loot homes and businesses.
The government announced a night-time curfew for Tacloban and deployed special forces across the ruined city to try to prevent pillaging.
Heavy rain overnight in Tacloban compounded survivors’ desperation, while a tropical storm to the south threatened other typhoon-hit islands where hundreds of other people were also killed.
An international relief effort has begun to build momentum, with the United States and Britain announcing they were sending warships carrying thousands of sailors to the Philippines.
The aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which has 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft aboard, headed from Hong Kong to the United States’ close Asian ally on Tuesday.
Five other US warships are also being deployed, and the carrier group is expected to reach the Philippines within two to three days, the Pentagon said. Dozens of US marines arrived in Tacloban on Monday as an advance team.
A British warship, currently in Singapore, would head “at full speed” to the Philippines, Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Monday.
Many other countries have pledged help with even China, which has been embroiled in a bitter territorial dispute with the Philippines, offering aid and sympathy.
The UN children’s fund UNICEF said a cargo plane carrying 60 tons of aid including shelters and medicine would arrive in the Philippines Tuesday, to be followed by deliveries of water purification and sanitation equipment.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR was also organizing an airlift carrying aid including hygiene kits.
Aquino’s declaration late Monday of a state of calamity allowed the government to impose price controls and quickly release emergency funds.
“In the coming days, be assured: help will reach you faster and faster,” he said in a televised address.
“My appeal to you all is: remaining calm, praying, cooperating with, and assisting one another are the things that will help us to rise from this calamity.” Haiyan’s sustained winds when it hit Samar island, where it first made landfall, reached 315 km(195 miles) an hour, making it the strongest typhoon in the world this year and one of the most powerful ever recorded.