- NEW: U.S. Navy carrier with 80 aircraft and 5,000 sailors arrives in Philippines
- It was led by two destroyers, and a nearly 700-foot supply ship is not far behind
- The latest death toll in the Philippines is 2,357, disaster officials say
- Relief effort “far too slow,” U.N. emergency aid chief says
Tacloban, Philippines (CNN) — Much-needed relief arrived in the Philippines on Thursday, when two U.S. Navy ships sailed in to help hundreds of thousands who have gone without food and clean water for nearly a week.
The destroyers USS Lassen and USS Mustin led the way for a mammoth aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, which has 80 aircraft and 5,000 sailors to distribute food, water and medicine, the Navy said.
A nearly 700-foot supply ship is not far behind.
The Navy cut the sailors’ shore leave short to send them on the relief mission to the area ripped apart last Friday by one of the strongest cyclones on record, Typhoon Haiyan.
Typhoon devastation beyond Tacloban
General Kennedy on typhoon relief
Clinic in Tacloban overflowing
Typhoon survivors: Where is the help?
Its winds, 3.5 times as strong as those of hurricane Katrina, pushed in a wall of water about 15 feet high, washing away towns on many islands in the south of the country.
By Thursday morning, the official death toll had climbed to 2,357. More than 3,800 were injured and about 77 are still missing.
The sailors arrive to a scene of desolation, where help comes too late for many, and international aid has piled up at airports, blocked from distribution to the starving by miles of debris piled up on roads to hard-hit areas.
It is taking a long time to clear them and to establish communications in to remote areas, said Philippine Interior Minister Mar Roxas.
“Imagine a situation where from zero, from zero, no power, light, water, communication, nothing, you have to build the social infrastructures as well as the physical infrastructures for 275,000.”
Only 20 trucks are operating and they are overloaded with tasks, he said. Half are delivering food; half are clearing roads and removing dead bodies that have been lying around since the storm hit.
He led a cadaver recovery team himself on Tuesday and Wednesday, he said.
The danger of violence also looms over the relief efforts.
Police warned a CNN crew to turn back Wednesday on the road south of Tacloban, saying rebels had been shooting at civilians.
“Maybe they are looking for food,” a police commander said.
Though progress is slow, Roxas feels it is doubling by the day.
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Mayor of Tacloban’s story of survival
Storm survivors desperate for aid
Moans of despair
That could still be too slow for the wounded and the sick, who have crowded into hospitals barely able to operate, hardly supplied and often without electricity.
In Tacloban, which may have seen the worst destruction, the cries of the suffering echoed through a small, cramped one-story clinic, where the medicine was all but gone Thursday. But patients keep pouring in.
The clinic at the airport in the decimated capital city of Leyte province is one of the few places where the injured can turn for help, but not much of it is to be found.
“We don’t have any medicines. We don’t have any supplies. We have IVs, but it’s running out,” Dr. Katrina Catabay told CNN.
“Most of the people don’t have water and food. That’s why they come here. Most of the kids are dehydrated. They are suffering from diarrhea and vomiting.”
While relief organizations say they have been able to deliver some of the stockpiles of aid to some victims, many CNN crews reported seeing little sign of any large-scale organized relief effort in the hardest-hit areas.
The desperation is increasing, and becoming more serious.
“We mostly need food and water, that’s the most important,” Catabay said. “We need supplies.”
At the clinic, a Philippine military officer called names off a clipboard, the names of those who will be airlifted out of the city.
“The elderly, the children that are sick” are the priority, the officer said.
For at least one man, the evacuation came too late.
Australia: 30 million
U.N.: 25 million
UK: 24 million
U.S.: 20 million
Japan: 10 million
Denmark: 6.9 million
European Union: 4.1 million
Sweden: 3.6 million
UAE: 10 million
South Korea: 5 million
Canada: 4.8 million
Norway: 3.4 million
Switzerland: 3.4 million
Indonesia: 2 million
Spain: 1.8 million
New Zealand: 1.75 million
China: 1.6 million
Ireland: 1.4 million
Italy: 1.3 million
Mexico: 1 million
Czech Republic: 214,000
Source: U.N. OCHA, government officials, reports
The man died at the clinic. His body was put on a gurney and pushed to the end of a hallway because there is nowhere to put him, the clinic staff said.
Death toll climbs
By Thursday morning, the official death toll had climbed to 2,357, disaster officials said. The typhoon left 3,853 people injured and 77 people missing, according to the Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
The toll is “going to be horrific,” Philippine Interior Minister Mar Roxas said.
“There are still many towns that have not sent in complete reports and out of the 40 towns of Leyte, for example, only 20 have been contacted. So there’s another 20 towns with no communication,” he said.
“It’s going to be a high death toll. I don’t want to go into just throwing out numbers.”
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has said that he expected the final number would likely be around 2,000 to 2,500.
“Pushing aid” to Tacloban
Some relief crews are circumventing the blocked roads, wastelands of debris and the danger of crime by flying over it, delivering aid by air into devastated areas.
U.S. Marines arrived Wednesday in Cebu, transforming the sleepy airbase there into a buzzing center of activity as cargo aircraft, tilt-rotor Ospreys and camouflaged Marines.
Two 747 airplanes loaded with humanitarian aid from the United States have arrived, and Marines are “pushing aid” from Cebu to Tacloban, Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy said on CNN’s “Situation Room.”
But they land to find themselves hemmed in by debris.
“Some of those neighborhoods are inundated with water, and some of it’s inaccessible,” Kennedy said. Marines will need heavy machinery to clear the rubble, and getting it in won’t be easy.
“It’s a matter of capacity at this point. This just doesn’t come out of a box. It has to be moved down here. It’s a remote location,” he said.
The Royal Australian Air Force also landed at Cebu, delivering a portable field hospital that was soon sent on its way to Tacloban. Taiwanese troops also arrived with medical aid, and Doctors Without Borders said three of nine cargo shipments it has planned also arrived in Cebu on Wednesday.
The planes carried medical supplies, shelter materials, hygiene kits and other gear, the agency said.
U.N.: Pace of relief lacking
Teams from Doctors Without Borders also have reached remote Guiuan, a village of about 45,000 that was among the first areas hit by the full force of the storm, the agency said.
“The situation here is bleak,” said Alexis Moens, the aid group’s assessment team leader. “The village has been flattened — houses, medical facilities, rice fields, fishing boats all destroyed. People are living out in the open; there are no roofs left standing in the whole of Guiuan. The needs are immense and there are a lot of surrounding villages that are not yet covered by any aid organizations.”
But the uptick in aid delivered to the Philippines from abroad coincides with the opening of a road into Tacloban, holding out the promise that food, water and medicine will begin to flow more quickly.
But six days after the storm struck — with more than 2 million people in need of food, according to the Philippine government — even U.N. relief coordinator Valerie Amos acknowledged the pace of aid is still lagging.
“This is a major operation that we have to mount,” she said Wednesday. “We’re getting there. But in my view it’s far too slow.”
Philippine President Aquino has defended relief efforts, citing the challenges posed by the devastation.
Above all, he said, the intensity of the storm took everyone by surprise.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper reported from Tacloban, and Ben Brumfield and Chelsea J. Carter reported and wrote from Atlanta. Anna Coren contributed from Cebu; CNN’s Paula Hancocks and Andrew Stevens contributed from Tacloban, and Ivan Watson contributed from Cebu.