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4:15 pm
Thu November 14, 2013

Tacloban Begins To Bury The Dead As Aid Starts Coming In

Originally published on Fri November 15, 2013 7:39 am

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Nearly a week after a devastating typhoon slammed into the Philippines, the scale of the crisis is staggering. Millions of people across dozens of islands need help; that includes food, shelter and clean water. It also means help burying the dead. Some 2,000 people in the city of Tacloban are known to have died in the storm. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports on what's being done about their bodies.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: The sun is setting over the Vasper Cemetery as trucks pull up piled high with body bags. The stench coming out of those trucks is overpowering. A few policemen slide the body bags down ramps and then carry them a few footsteps to a mass grave. Authorities still aren't sure how many were killed in the disaster. Some estimate that more than 10,000 died, but the situation in many remote areas remains unclear since Typhoon Haiyan roared through with winds nearing 200 miles per hour.

On the way from the Tacloban airport to city hall, I passed by block after block of shredded homes sprinkled with cars and boats resting at odd angles. The roadside was lined with body bags which soldiers were gathering up and putting in trucks. At Tacloban city hall, Mayor Alfred Romualdez says that not even 10 percent of those known to have died in the typhoon have been buried.

The problem, he says, is a lack of manpower and machinery.

MAYOR ALFRED ROMUALDEZ: They're just picking up bodies on the main roads and on the sidewalks. And when they do that, people come out and say there are more inside, and then they say we'll go back for that, we're just clearing the ones in the roads. That's the situation.

KUHN: How many of those bodies have been identified? And those who are not identified, will they ever be identified?

ROMUALDEZ: Well, that's why it's a temporary gravesite. I heard that even the Interpol wants to come in and help in identifying bodies, use the DNA and all of that, but that will be done a few weeks or a few months from now. More than 80 percent of the bodies being put there have been processed, but they're not identified.

KUHN: A U.S. aircraft carrier has arrived and cargo planes are flying in supplies round the clock. Police claim they've restored law and order, but officials also admit that poor security and public fears about looting continue to aggravate the shortage of essential items. Take gas, for example. Although it's very hard to buy here these days, Vice Mayor Jerry Yaokasin says that Tacloban actually has plenty of it.

VICE MAYOR JERRY YAOKASIN: There is enough fuel in the gas station, but the owners are not opening unless they are ensured of security. So because of that situation, a lot have resorted to just loot and this is making the situation worse.

KUHN: On the ride into town, I speak with City Councilman Jerry Wee(ph). He says the residents were initially nervous about a group of inmates who escaped from the city jail during the typhoon. They're among the few convicts to ever escape prison by swimming out.

COUNCILMAN JERRY WEE: They were able to get out because the water rose to about six meters high and it's near the wall so they could climb the wall and they could swim out from the jail.

KUHN: Wee says that the police are having a bit of difficulty re-arresting the inmates because their files got wet and their radio system broke down. Then again, he says, resident shouldn't have to worry too much about escaped convicts in their midst because the felons will probably have to go elsewhere, as there is so little food left in this city. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Tacloban. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.