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Philippine leaders defend actions, response time to Typhoon Haiyan

Nov. 15, 2013 at 7:25 AM   |   Comments

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TACLOBAN, Philippines, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- The Philippine government, ripped for its slow response to Typhoon Haiyan, defended itself Friday, saying it's working as best it can to meet a "massive" need.

"In a situation like this, nothing is fast enough," Interior Secretary Max Roxas told reporters while visiting Tacloban, the provincial capital flattened by the typhoon last week. "The need is massive, the need is immediate, and you can't reach everyone."

Roxas said he had eight working trucks for the city of 220,000 and its local government wasn't functioning, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"The basic infrastructure of a community normally found in the world has been swept away," he said.

Also Friday, the country's main disaster relief agency raised the official death toll to 3,621 from 2,360, as its chairman took a swipe at other agencies that have released higher tallies, saying casualty statistics would come from "one voice" going forward.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid Thursday put the death toll at 4,460, more than double the official toll offered by the Philippine government.

The death toll has been a controversial, the Times said, with one local official estimating the final count could hit 10,000 and President Benigno Aquino III projecting a toll of 2,000 to 2,500.

The number of those injured was 12,165, the Philippine News Agency reported, and at least 1,140 people were officially listed as missing.

One problem facing the recovery effort is debris covering roads, blocking access to many hard-hit villages and leaving potentially many victims uncounted, the Times said.

In Tacloban, police officials have complained of bodies still in the street and Mayor Alfredo Romualdez told Philippine Inquirer News he was frustrated by the government's inability to collect the dead.

While there have been reports of the threat of violence by groups seeking to steal relief aid, the U.S. military said violent crime isn't as critical an issue as clearing the roads to get aid to those needing it most, CNN said.

A Philippines senator said she's heard reports of rapes and other crimes against women, some allegedly perpetrated by inmates who fled prison in the typhoon's aftermath, Sen. Nancy Binay expressed alarm after a television report in which women said assailants were breaking into people's homes.

But the most vulnerable a week after Typhoon Haiyan made six landfalls are children because it's hard to protect them and give them what they need, UNICEF spokesman Kent Page told CNN.

"Health, nutrition, getting them clean water, good sanitation, protection, and we have to consider education also," Page said, ticking off necessities that are hard to come by.

"Schools have been wiped out and getting kids into child-friendly spaces, where they can feel protected, where they can get a chance to play, where they can get a sense of normalcy back in their life after going through such a devastating experience is very important," Page said.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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