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Tacloban: The death toll from a powerful typhoon that swept the central Philippines nearly doubled overnight, reaching 4,000, as helicopters from a US aircraft carrier and other naval ships began flying food, water and medical teams to ravaged regions.

Philippine typhoon

 

President Benigno Aquino, caught off guard by the scale of the disaster, has been criticized for the slow pace of aid distribution and unclear estimates of casualties, especially in Tacloban, capital of hardest-hit Leyte province.

A notice board in Tacloban City Hall estimated the deaths at 4,000 on Friday, up from 2,000 a day before, in that town alone. Hours later, Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez apologised and said the toll was for the whole central Philippines.

The toll, marked up on a whiteboard, is compiled by officials who started burying bodies in a mass grave on Thursday.

Romualdez said some people may have been swept out to sea and their bodies lost after a tsunami-like wall of seawater slammed into coastal areas. One neighbourhood with a population of between 10,000 and 12,000 was now deserted, he said.

The City Hall toll is the first public acknowledgement that the number of fatalities would likely far exceed an estimate given this week by Aquino, who said the loss of life from Typhoon Haiyan would be closer to 2,000 or 2,500.

Official confirmed deaths nationwide stood at 2,357 on Friday after the typhoon, one of the strongest ever recorded, roared across the central Philippines a week ago.

Adding to the confusion, the United Nations, citing government figures, put the latest overall death toll at 4,460, but a spokeswoman said it was now reviewing the figure.

On Tuesday, Aquino said estimates of 10,000 dead by local officials were overstated and caused by "emotional trauma". Elmer Soria, a regional police chief who made that estimate to media, was removed from his post on Thursday.

A police spokesman said Soria was due to be transferred to headquarters in Manila. But a senior police official told Reuters he believed Soria was re-assigned because of his unauthorised casualty estimate.

US carrier arrives with aid

A huge US aircraft carrier arrived off the coast of the typhoon-hit region, offering hope of a dramatic uptick in aid to destitute survivors. The USS George Washington, with 5,000 sailors aboard, headed an eight-strong flotilla of US vessels bearing badly needed equipment, supplies and expertise for the thousands left homeless and hungry by one of the strongest storms in history.

The world body's leader Ban Ki-moon, currently in Latvia, later added UN agencies and teams "are on the ground to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance".

"Especially in the southern part there are tens of thousands of people exposed to the elements. We are doing everything possible to rush assistance to those who need it."

Ships and planes from Asia-Pacific nations and Europe are also converging on the Philippines, bearing food, water, medical supplies, tents and other essentials to a population in dire need of the basics of life.

When friends are in trouble, America helps: Obama


Shaken by the images of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan, US President Barack Obama said when friends are in trouble, America helps, as his administration launched a massive humanitarian relief efforts in the Philippines.
    
"Over the past few days, I think all of us have been shaken by the images of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan. It's a heartbreaking reminder of how fragile life is. And among the dead are several Americans. So our prayers are will the Filipino people and with Filipino-Americans across our country who are anxious about their family and friends back home," Obama told reporters at a White House news conference.
    
"One of our core principles is when friends are in trouble, America helps. As I told (Philippine) President Aquino earlier this week, the United States will continue to offer whatever assistance we can. Our military personnel and USAID team do this better than anybody in the world. And they've been already on the ground working tirelessly to deliver food, water, medicine, shelter and to help with airlift," he said.
    
Obama encouraged people desirous of helping the victims in the Philippines to visit the White House website. "That will offer you links to organisations that are working on the ground in ways that you can support their efforts. Our friends in the Philippines will face a long, hard road ahead, but they'll continue to have a friend and partner in the United States of America," he said.

Britain to send helicopter carrier: Cameron
    

Britain will send the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious to the Philippines to help with relief efforts after Super Typhoon Haiyan, Prime Minister David Cameron said.
    
"I can announce Britain is sending the carrier HMS Illustrious to help with #TyphoonHaiyan," Cameron, who is heading to a Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka, said on his official Twitter account.
    
Cameron said the total amount of British government aid for victims of the typhoon, which is believed to have killed thousands after it struck last Friday, was now in excess of 20 million pounds (USD 32 million).
    
Illustrious is currently on exercise in the Gulf and is expected to reach the Philippines by November 25, the British government said. It will replace the British destroyer HMS Daring, which joined the aid effort earlier this week.The carrier has seven helicopters -- three Lynx, three Sea Kings and one Merlin -- which will be used to distribute food and water, the British government.
    
The ship, with a crew of 900, also has equipment for converting sea water to fresh water. Cameron said Britain was also chartering a Russian Antonov aircraft to transport 100 tonnes of equipment for rubble clearance and for the handling of relief supplies at airfields.
    
Britain has already sent a Royal Air Force C-17 transport aircraft to help the aid effort. "What happened in the Philippines is an absolute tragedy. You can see the devastation, the suffering, and it's quite clear that we are going to need long-term help for those people," Cameron said.
    
Illustrious is the largest ship in the British navy with a displacement of 22,000 tonnes. It used to be a full aircraft carrier until Cameron's coalition government scrapped its fleet of Harrier jump jets.
    
The announcement from Cameron came soon after the United States Navy said its aircraft carrier the USS George Washington had arrived in the Philippines to aid the relief operation.

India despatches relief material to Philippines

    
India on Thursday dispatched relief material in an IAF C-130J Hercules aircraft to help the typhoon-affected people of Philippines.
    
"The relief package comprising medicines, hygiene and chemicals, tentage, blankets, tarpaulins and ready to eat meals ex-Armed Forces stocks by the aircraft to Mactan," an IAF release said.
    
"This will help meet the urgent need for life-saving medical care, food supplies and construction of temporary shelters in this hour of need in the face of a serious humanitarian crisis," it said.
    
UN tasks imaging satellites for Haiyan relief


The United Nations has activated a constellation of satellites to help relief operations in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines, an official today said.
    
Catherine Proy of France's National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) said the first discussions to activate the so-called International Charter on Space and Major Disasters took place on November 7, the day before Typhoon Haiyan struck.
    
Under the Charter, 15 space agencies or national organisations agree to pool 25 ground-imaging satellites to help relief efforts hampered by a natural catastrophe, such as a storm, earthquake or tsunami.
    
Their data can identify roads, bridges or railway lines that are passable or structures that are damaged or intact. "The charter was activated by the United Nations and its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs," said Proy, whose organisation is part of the Charter group.
    
"It was activated almost preventively. The first discussions took place on the Thursday, the day before the typhoon crossed the Philippines," Proy said in an interview.
    
"The satellites were re-tasked on the Friday, the day when the cyclone hit."
    
The UN is an "authorised user" of the Charter, giving it the right to invoke it.
    
Once activated, space technicians under a rotating arrangement determine which satellites are available and best suited for the job, and then send a programme request to the operator for images.
    
Satellites take the pictures as they fly over a zone, giving this mission a priority over other jobs. The data are usually available within 24 hours and are provided for free.
    
The maps are put together by UNOSAT, a Geneva-based UN institute that specialises in satellite applications, which then disseminates it to aid agencies that request them.
    
"Around 10 satellites have been requested, particularly optical satellites," said Proy.
    
The first job was to identified undamaged buildings, especially in Tacloban, that could be used by relief organisations, she said. "We have now moved more towards Cebu and Bogo but there are also requests to cover areas that are much, much farther west, on other islands," said Proy.

(Agencies)

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