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Typhoon Devastates Leyte Province


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Let's get some perspective now on the destruction in the Philippines.

WERTHEIMER: Almost any death toll we might give today would be unreliable. But we do know that hundreds of thousands of people who survived the storm are now living without shelter. They now face the challenge of finding basics like food and water.

INSKEEP: And let's go now to the Philippines to the capital city of Manila, where we found Stephen Rood. He is the country representative for the Philippines of The Asia Foundation. He's on the line. Welcome to the program, sir.

STEVEN ROOD: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: And I want to mention for people that you spent many years in the Philippines. You've often been to the city of Tacloban which is said to be the hardest hit city here. What was it like before the storm?

ROOD: Tacloban was a prosperous city out there in the provinces. It's a trading center, a center for commerce, it had universities. It's where MacArthur landed during World War II so there's a monument for him out there. So it was a very pleasant place to be.

INSKEEP: A relatively modern city, if you think in terms of infrastructure and so forth?

ROOD: Oh, yes. Roads are basically all cement. The electricity is there. The province of Leyte where Tacloban is a source of electricity for the entire region. Telecommunications is good, universities/educational establishments and so on. Yes, it was.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the survivors. Based on the stories that you're hearing, what is it like to get through day by day there right now?

ROOD: Well, it's quite difficult. Although for the city itself it's rapidly improving because the airport has been reopened and the arrival of goods in the city. But distributing outside the city is very much a problem because of trees over the roads and bridges that are down, and the like.

So it's very difficult for people. Water is a problem. It's, as you know, a tropical country, so it's hard to keep hydrated. And so, they really are going day-to-day for the moment while the relief effort catches up with them.

INSKEEP: So what do you think the most urgent needs are?

ROOD: Water is definitely the most urgent need. People can't go very much longer without that. A shelter - we've had a few days of good weather and so people have not been suffering too much. But we do have a low pressure area coming so people need to find shelter. And then, of course, giving people hope and psychological rehabilitation.

A friend of mine whose village was wiped out describes the people in his village sort of wandering around like zombies in a zombie movie, not knowing what do 'cause there's nothing left. And so you need to be able not only to reach out to people with goods and services but you need to help them with psychosocial rehabilitation.

INSKEEP: Stating the obvious here, you've got a chain of islands. You don't get from Manila...

ROOD: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...to Tacloban without a ferry ride, for example.

ROOD: Right.

INSKEEP: How does that reality affect the effort to relieve people here?

ROOD: The fact that the Philippines is an archipelago, like it is, has a less of an effect now than it would've had 10 or 15 years ago. Because the roll on/roll off ferry system has been expanding greatly since about 2005. But still, there are isolated islands, in particular small islands, which are very difficult to reach. Or Eastern Samar, if you look at the map, Samar is where it first hit, there are only two roads to get there and both of them are cut at the moment. So you need to be able to use sea transport to even get there.

INSKEEP: Given the sheer scale of this storm, I'm wondering if there are islands or parts of islands where we really don't even have a very good sense of the scale of the destruction yet.

ROOD: That's definitely the case. There are places like in Eastern Samar - Guiuan, for instance - where you've got a few pictures but, you know, you just have the mayor guessing as to how many people died because he buried 200 people in a mass grave, and the like.

So, telecommunications are going back up. It's about 50 to 60 percent restored, and that's a very high priority for the government because it's the only way for them to get good surveys of the destruction.

INSKEEP: Right. Steven Rood of The Asia Foundation, thanks very much.

ROOD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.