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Typhoon Death Toll Continues To Climb


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Don Gonyea. The president of the Philippines will visit the parts of this country hit hardest by Typhoon Haiyan. Last Friday's storm was one of the most powerful ever recorded on land. The U.N. says the death toll from that massive storm is around 3,600, with some 11 million affected. In spite of help from foreign governments and aid groups, relief efforts have been slow. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from the city of Tacloban. Hi, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hello there, Don.

GONYEA: First, tell us about the Philippine president's tour of the typhoon-hit areas today, which will actually be Sunday local time.

KUHN: Well, President Benigno Aquino III did not release his detailed schedule, but it's clear there are two major items on his agenda. One, is boosting the morale of the people who have been enduring great hardship here, and the other is to try to speed up delivery of relief goods to them. In announcing his visit today, he said that the government is not going to be able to help everybody and so he urged the volunteers not to give into fatigue on this. He also said that he regretted very much that many of the typhoon survivors in this predominantly Catholic country are unfortunately not going to have a very nice Christmas.

GONYEA: I understand that you were out with the U.S. military personnel on rescue missions to two different islands today. Tell us what they were doing.

KUHN: I hopped on an Osprey, which if you've never seen one, is a plane that takes off vertically like a helicopter then its rotors tilt forward and it flies like a plane. And its mission was to go out to some outlying islands, which had not received much help before. At the first one we landed at, there was just an incredibly raucous and cheerful welcome. These people have seen very little aid in the past eight days. They were very, very short on food, water and medicine and they were very happy to see crates of supplies marked U.S. aid being unloaded to them. The next island we visited, we landed on an airstrip that the U.S. had built during the Second World War while fighting the Japanese; a reminder of our history in the region. And in addition to ferrying in supplies, they've also been rescuing some stranded expatriates I understand, and also they've been reconnoitering the area and finding out how to get help to people in these remote areas.

GONYEA: And what is the overall role that the U.S. military is playing in the relief efforts there?

KUHN: The USS George Washington and its carrier strike force unit is here. They're parts of a Marine expeditionary unit. They have moved, by their own calculations, 190 tons of supplies and flown 200 sorties so far. There are 600 U.S. personnel on the ground, 6,200 sailors aboard the USS George Washington and 1,000 more Marines and sailors coming. Of course, the U.S. government points out that this is at the invitation and request of the Philippine government and that the military is coordinating with the State Department to distribute the relief items the U.S. government is giving.

GONYEA: I mean, that's clearly a massive operation. But we've been hearing here about some grumbling, some complaints from some in the Philippines about the slow, just a trickle, of aid. What do you hear from people there affected by the typhoon?

KUHN: Well, yes. There is anger at the slow response. There is grumbling. I mean, I think people know that this, you know, nobody could have expected something of this magnitude, that their, you know, infrastructure was ill-equipped to deal with it. However, what I'm hearing that is the most sort of biting criticism is that there has been a certain unfairness to the response. For example, in the local media today, it was reported that a C-130 cargo plane was not allowed to complete its mission because some VIPs were flying into town on a chartered jet. Sometimes people I talked to at the airport were saying that the soldiers were really to protect the rich and privileged and that the poor people were not getting the help they deserved. There are so many stories of hardship going on here and it's understandable that there are expressions of discontent.

The government has made it clear that it's going to take months to get basic services, such as water and electricity back. And so I think we're going to hear a lot more grumbling in the coming months as basic services are resumed.

GONYEA: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Tacloban. Anthony, thanks.

KUHN: Thank you, Don. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.