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Desperation for Survivors in Philippines

Aired November 12, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. A SITUATION ROOM special report. "Deadly Typhoon." We're taking you to the Philippines disaster zone. In the air where this vast panorama of death and destruction is both breathtaking and heartbreaking.

And on the ground where survivors still wander, stunned through the rubble of their communities in a desperate search for water and food. If relief supplies don't reach them quickly, more survivors may start dying within a week. I will speak with our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Four days after a killer typhoon slammed into the Philippines, the death toll is steadily climbing and we're learning of the first American fatalities. Disease may now be a growing threat. And as the United States and other countries rush to deliver and distribute aid, survival may be measured in days for the most vulnerable.

We have full coverage of the disaster zone.

We begin with CNN's Anna Coren. She's in one of the most hard-hit areas.

Anna, what's the latest?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you can imagine, the situation is dire on the ground. People are homeless.

They have been going without food and freshwater for days now. And they're salvaging whatever they can from the debris. We joined a military team that dropped aid off to one of the worst-hit areas.


COREN (voice-over): They are baby, survivors of the typhoon now at risk of dying of hunger and thirst. The United Nations says women and children are begging on the storm-ravaged streets, exposing themselves to all sorts of danger.

In a damaged hospital, a shell-shocked mother cradles her baby and cries. All she can say over and over again is, "I want to go home." The Philippines government says more than two million people need food aid. Nearly 300,000 of them are pregnant women or new mothers.

A U.S. general on the ground warns that in a week these people may be dead if help doesn't come soon. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Food. We want food, tents. Everything, everything's gone. So, we need help.

COREN: This is the township of Guiuan in eastern Samar Province, the first community hit by typhoon Haiyan. Of the roughly 50,000 people in this town, almost everyone is homeless.

(on camera): One hundred percent damaged?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One hundred percent damaged.

COREN: Any buildings left standing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was all dead, collapsed.

COREN (voice-over): We flew to Guiuan with the military on a cargo plane carrying soldiers and lifesaving supplies.

(on camera): The military on this flight have an enormous job ahead. We have just landed at the airfield. And as can you see, all around us, these enormous palm trees have been snapped like twigs. Everything has been flattened.

(voice-over): So many Filipinos across the disaster zone have lost everything. They have nowhere to go. Many foreigners are desperate to leave or at least get in touch with their loved ones back home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have got to go tell my family I'm alive. There's no communication here at all.

COREN: U.S. forces are on the ground in the hardest-hit areas planning to conduct a search-and-rescue mission and more help is coming.

But after four days, they know they could be facing a recovery operation. Whatever the final death toll, this country and its people are scarred by a storm more powerful and terrifying than anything they have seen in their lives.

CRISTINA GONZALES-ROMUALDEZ, SURVIVOR: Very scary. The sound was like, ahhh.


COREN: Absolutely terrifying for the people who survived those horrors.

Wolf, in the last minute, a C-130 Hercules has just landed here at the Cebu air base. It will bringing survivors to this city. These people are injured, they are sick, they are pregnant. They are people who need to get out of the devastated, hard-hit towns.

So this is an operation that really is unfolding. There's aid and supplies that are packed up here at the -- along the tarmac, but the problem is getting it out to the people who need it. It's all about logistics, Wolf, and at the moment things are moving quite slowly. BLITZER: Anna Coren on the scene for us. Anna, thank you very much.

Let's get an official update on the scale of this disaster and the state of the relief effort.

And the ambassador of the Philippines to the United States, Ambassador Jose Cuisia, is joining us now from the embassy here in Washington.

Ambassador, our deepest, deepest condolences. A lot of deaths in the Philippines. Do you have a number yet? Do we know how many people were killed?

JOSE CUISIA, PHILIPPINE AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Yes. First, let me thank you for the words of concern and the condolences that you have expressed.

The official death toll that we have received from the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, which is the official government agency overseeing the disaster relief operations, is 1,798 people dead, but 2,842 who were injured and 82 missing. This is as of yesterday or as of last night.

BLITZER: What's the most important thing, Ambassador, you need right now?

CUISIA: Well, based on the reports we got last night, there's still a shortage of food, drinking water, medicines, particularly antibiotics, and temporary shelters, because, as you know, about 600,000 people were displaced out of their homes, as many homes were washed away or flattened.

So, shelter, temporary shelter is very much needed. They are in evacuation centers, but evacuation centers are also very, very crowded. So the efforts are to bring what is needed, like food, water, as quickly as possible. But there are also encountering challenges in terms of the logistics, because, as I said, the airport does not have the normal navigational equipment.

So when the weather is bad -- and, as you know, that region has continued to experience bad weather -- the aircraft cannot land.

BLITZER: Because we have heard from the United Nations, Ambassador, that about 2.5 million people are in desperate need of food and water and medicine right now. But, logistically, the roads are destroyed. There are not enough trucks, not enough people to deliver this kind of badly needed food, water and medicine. How do you fix that?

CUISIA: Well, this is why the arrival of those helicopters will be a big boost, because the aircraft carrier has a number of helicopters that can be used to deliver food, water and so on, as well as the other aircraft that they are -- that they have on the aircraft carrier.

Of course, the Philippine air force is making use of whatever helicopters that we have, but they're not enough. Private corporations are also providing their own aircraft that can be used. But, again, it's not enough, considering the huge need for food, water and shelter.

BLITZER: Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us. And good luck to all the people in the Philippines.

CUISIA: Well, thank you very much, too, Wolf, for giving me this opportunity.

BLITZER: Just ahead, a race against time to save survivors. The most vulnerable among them may have only days to live. I will speak with our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And is global warming to blame for this super typhoon? We're going to hear what scientists are now saying. We're going to show you a live picture.

Also, a C-130 has just landed with supplies, badly needed supplies at the Cebu airfield. There, you see U.S. military and Filipino troops. They are on the ground. They're trying to get these supplies to badly needed folks out there. This is a desperate situation that's unfolding.


BLITZER: Time is quickly running out for those survivors who are most at risk, even as a massive relief operation gears up. Many are still out of reach of food, clean water and medical attention, and disease may be a growing threat.

And our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is joining us now.

Sanjay, you have covered a lot of these horrendous stories after these devastating natural disasters, if you will. What kind of problems potentially are the folks in the Philippines facing right now?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the basics really do apply, especially in the first several days after something like this.

No surprise there, Wolf. We have seen this in many places around the world, but simply getting drinkable water to people is obviously of high concern, trying to prevent diseases, which, typically, thankfully, aren't as big a problem as people might expect, and obviously treating the wounded.

What is so staggering, Wolf, and I remember this even from Haiti not that long ago, if you have the supplies that have gotten into the country, and we're hearing a lot of headlines about that, simply getting them to people who need them, and they may be just literally thousands of feet away, can sometimes pose a real challenge.

So getting the supplies to the country is only part of this battle. And really distributing it after that becomes just about everything. So that's probably what's going on now. So much rubble in the roads, simply navigating from point A to point B a challenge. You get assessment teams who are trying to figure out right now how to get the preciously needed supplies to where they're needed.

BLITZER: And timing is crucial because of the spread of disease, airborne disease, waterborne disease. And so many of the hospitals, we're told, Sanjay, have been destroyed in these affected areas. This sounds like a potential disaster, a second disaster in the works.

GUPTA: Yes. And let me put it to you like this, Wolf.

When you think about what's happening here, people often focus on the number of people who have died as one thing. But there's really three groups of people. There are obviously the people who have died. At the other end of the spectrum are people who survived and are fine, have what they need, and then a very large population in the middle.

Consider those the vulnerable population. And just to your point, Wolf, the size of that population is really the most crucial number when you're evaluating a situation like that. Who are these vulnerable people? They are alive, but within the next five to seven days, within a couple of weeks, unless they get those supplies, they are going to die. They are going to pass away from this. That's really the key.

Again, infectious disease is a very, very understandable concern, but probably not as big a concern as people think about. You want to obviously be able to vaccinate if necessary, provide antibiotics, those types of things, but not at the expense of any of these basics, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta, thanks very much for that report.

GUPTA: You got it, Wolf. Any time.

Violent storms often batter the Philippines, but this killer typhoon may be the most powerful in recorded history. Here's a question. Is climate change to blame?

CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story. He's joining us now live from the Maryland headquarters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also known as NOAA.

Brian, what are they saying?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, experts here do not believe that climate change creates a greater number of storms, but they do say global warming could make the storms more intense.


TODD (voice-over): He's the Philippines delegate to the U.N. Climate Change Conference. He also happens to be from Tacloban, one of the worst-hit areas from Typhoon Haiyan.

As he spoke at the conference in a clip posted by "The Telegraph," Naderev Sano said he's in agony over the uncertain fate of his relatives, and he couldn't contain his emotions. NADEREV YEB SANO, PHILIPPINES CLIMATE CHANGE COMMISSIONER: I speak -- speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves. And the devastation is staggering. I struggle to find words, even, for the images that we see on the news coverage, and I struggle to find words to describe how I feel about the losses.

TODD: Sano says he will go on a hunger strike until a meaningful outcome to climate change is in sight. He believes the intensity of this typhoon is the result of global warming, which many scientists believe is a manmade problem.

Louis Uccellini says there could be a tie between climate change and these deadly storms.

LOUIS UCCELLINI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: There is some evidence that although there is not necessarily an increasing number of storms, and, again, there's mixed results there, that we're seeing more intense storms.

TODD: Uccellini is director of the National Weather Service. I spoke to him next to a new display called Science on a Sphere, a digitally enhanced globe at NOAA's headquarters projecting weather patterns and water temperatures.

Uccellini says the water in the Pacific's been getting warmer for the past couple of decades. The warmer water and the sheer volume of water in that region fuel the energy of typhoons. Scientists say single weather events like Typhoon Haiyan cannot be conclusively linked to global warming, but there's at least one lethal factor, Uccellini says, caused by climate change.

UCCELLINI: The fact that the sea levels are rising means that, as you get these types of storm systems, yes, you will be driving more water towards land. And that increases the vulnerability of a larger number of people living right along the coast and the low-lying areas.


TODD: So what can we all do about those rising surface temperatures and sea levels? Louis Uccellini says in the immediate, authorities in those regions simply have to develop better communications and evacuation plans, especially in low-lying areas like that region of the Philippines -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you.

Up next: utter desperation in the disaster zone. CNN's Anderson Cooper, he's on the ground in one of the hardest-hit areas. He is standing by live. We will get his report when we come back.


BLITZER: In town after town, survivors dig through the rubble. They're looking for loved ones, they're looking for water, for food, or they simply wander still dazed through streets where little is left standing. The effort to help them is facing huge obstacles.

Our own Anderson Cooper is one of the hardest hit Arias of Tacloban.

Anderson, what are you seeing there? What's the situation like on the ground?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there's certainly a lot of disorganization.

I heard you talking to Dr. Sanjay Gupta earlier about the difficulties of getting medical equipment in. I can tell you, I was just at a clinic here at the Tacloban Airport, which is the sort of the point that everybody converges on.

According to patients in there, it's the only clinic, only hospital left open in this area still willing to see patients. The doctors there I talked to, they're simply overwhelmed. They don't have enough supplies.

And those are doctors here at the airport. You would think if anyplace, where supplies are actually being flown in, they would be well-supplied. They say they're not. They're doing the best they can. they're trying to get as many people on C-130 Philippine air force flights to Manila, but there are only about two flights out every day, Wolf.

It is a really desperate situation for the people in Tacloban, in the surrounding areas. You go out in some of these neighborhoods, and there are people, as you said, just wandering around, searching for their lost loved ones, searching for their dead children.

I met a woman who lost six of her children. She has found the bodies of three of them. She covered them up as best she could, but she's still looking for three of other her children. And everybody you talk to, it seems, has lost somebody.

BLITZER: Yes. It's, what, day five since this typhoon hit and everyone seems to be trying to help. There's an international presence there, but aid getting to folks seems to be very, very slow.

And lives are on the line right now. What's the biggest problem in getting this assistance to the folks out there, not even far from the airport where you are?

COOPER: Well, I mean, I think, on the Philippine side, there's certainly disorganization in terms of the overall effort. I mean, there's not -- you go out into neighborhoods, there's not feeding centers set up. There's not a grid, block-by-block search for lost people, for people to even recover dead bodies.

There's dead bodies laying all around. And you see them, you smell them. In Japan just a day or two after the tsunami, I remember seeing Japanese defense forces going systematically, block by block, you know, street by street, searching for human remains. We don't see any of that here. At the airport, there is a Philippine military presence. Supplies are coming in. The marines are here. They're hoping to get this airport up and running on a 24-hour basis. That would be a big help, but that didn't help last night. There were no flights in, in the overnight hours. More flights are starting to come in today.

There's a lot of -- the organization is ramping up, but it's not there yet. And people are suffering.

BLITZER: And Paula Hancocks told us earlier, Anderson -- I wonder if you have seen it -- there are still bodies lying around that haven't even been collected yet. And the disease, the airborne disease, the water disease, there's a potential for a real nightmare.

COOPER: Well, yes.

As Sanjay said, often, those concerns about secondary disease from bodies, that's often overstated. But there's certainly -- there's a lot of walking wounded. And you certainly see a lot of fatalities here. I have seen probably 15 or so just in a two-hour walk in the surrounding area from where I am.

And, again, there are people actively searching for their entire families who they saw swept away and they know are dead. They simply just can't find the bodies. And they're not getting any help in that search. It's mothers looking for their dead children all by themselves, just wandering around, trying to lift up branches, lift up corrugated tin to see if their child is somewhere buried underneath.

BLITZER: Has power been restored to those areas? Are people able to make phone calls? Are cell phones working?

COOPER: No. No. No. There's no cell service. There's no power. You know, some -- the Philippine military here at the airport, they have generators, but out in the neighborhoods, there's nothing.

There's no place for people to stay. They're sheltering under pieces of tin. There's not -- there's not enough food. There's not enough water. Even at the clinic here at the airport, they are short of food and water. I mean, that's -- that's how bad it is. That's literally right over there, right underneath the tower.

I just talked to the doctor there. They're short of food and water at the airport. This is the one place you would think there would be plenty of that. That doctor says there's not.

BLITZER: I know, Anderson, you're going to have a special report on "A.C. 360" coming up 8:00 p.m. Eastern, also at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. We're looking forward to your eyewitness account of what's going on. Anderson, thanks very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.