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Dumaguete City, PhilippinesSaturday, November 23, 2013
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Typhoon death toll at 5,209

MANILA – The number of people confirmed killed when a super typhoon devastated the Philippines surpassed 5,200 yesterday, the government said, making it one of the country's deadliest natural disasters.

The official death toll from the storm jumped by nearly 1,200 to 5,209, with another 1,611 people still missing, the spokesman for the government's disaster management council, Reynaldo Balido, told AFP.

Super-typhoon “Yolanda (international codename: Haiyan)” flattened dozens of towns across the central Philippines on November 8, bringing some of the strongest winds ever recorded and generating tsunami-like storm surges.

Balido said the death toll rose sharply yesterday, increasing from 4,015, after officials reported body counts from communities outside the worst-hit areas.

“If you notice, there was not much movement in the death toll for the past few days. This was because the reporting rules required a casualty report signed by the city mayor and his health officer," he said. “Now, the reports are coming in from the entire typhoon area.”

The Philippines endures a seemingly never-ending pattern of deadly typhoons, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and other natural disasters.

It is located along a typhoon belt and the so-called Ring of Fire, a vast Pacific Ocean region where many of Earth's earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.

But “Yolanda” now stands as one of the deadliest natural disasters ever recorded in the country, and the worst typhoon.

The only other natural disaster to rival it was a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake in 1976 that killed between 5,000 and 8,000 people on the southern island of Mindanao.

More than four million people were displaced, mainly on the poor, farming islands of Samar and Leyte. The disaster has triggered a giant, international relief effort, with dozens of countries and relief organizations rushing to deliver food, water and health services to isolated communities.

The US military has performed the highest-profile role, while Japan has sent more than 1,000 troops in its biggest deployment since World War II.

China, which is embroiled in a long-running territorial dispute, has also sent a 300-bed hospital ship and relief supplies.

The Peace Ark, a 300-bed floating navy medical facility, sounded its horn as it set off Thursday from a People's Liberation Army base on Zhoushan island, off the eastern province of Zhejiang.

It is expected to take three or four days to reach the Philippines, which is embroiled in a territorial row with China.

“With our efforts, we will make great contributions to the relationship between the Chinese people and the Philippine people," Shen Hao, deputy chief of staff of the East China Sea Fleet and commander of the mission, told reporters allowed on board the vessel before it left. “We will do our utmost to make contributions to the Philippine side."

The deployment of the ship, which was featured on the front page of China's state-run Global Times newspaper on Thursday, comes as the world's second-largest economy seeks to counter international criticism of its relief effort.

After an initial outlay of only $100,000, the Chinese government has gradually upped its aid over the past two weeks, contributing $1.6 million worth of tents, blankets and other supplies. Other Chinese organizations are also contributing, and a first crew of relief workers left on Wednesday, China's foreign ministry said.

By contrast, Japan has contributed $30 million to the Philippines, and the US has donated $20 million. Even the Swedish furniture group Ikea's charitable foundation surpassed China's initial outlay with a $2.7 million contribution to the UN children's agency UNICEF.

Shen said the ship had just returned from another humanitarian mission in October, and commanders had cut short a one-month maintenance period to send it to the disaster zone.

The Peace Ark will initially be stationed in Samar province, but how long it remains in the Philippines will depend on the situation, officials said.

Sun Tao, head of the ship's hospital, said it had more than 100 doctors and nurses on board, and can handle eight surgeries simultaneously. Doctors expect to handle disease caused by insanitary conditions and pediatric cases, he added.

The ship is often featured in Chinese media and is a key instrument of "soft power" for Beijing, which regularly sends it to Asian and African ports to offer free operations.*AFP

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