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Relief Efforts Continue in Philippines

Aired November 13, 2013 - 18:00   ET



BLITZER: Happening now a SITUATION ROOM" special report, "Deadly Typhoon." Relief teams are mobbed by hungry and thirsty storm survivors. More aid is getting in, but some of the most desperate are talking -- are taking the law into their own hands right now.

And we're taking you inside the U.S. military's recovery operations in the Philippines. Stand by for my exclusive interview with the U.S. Marine Corps general who's in charged.

And CNN has on the move to see how far the destruction goes. You're going to find out why police warned our crews to stop and turn back.

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

It's been less than a week since disaster struck the Philippines, but for storm survivors, it feels like a lifetime. Relief organizations say they have been able to deliver limited amounts of aid today, but our crews on the ground have only seen a trickle of help in the hardest-hit areas.

We have a huge team of correspondents across the disaster zone. They're talking to desperate people and to authorities and they're bringing us new information and some remarkable pictures.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Anna Coren. She's is in the isolated town of Cebu.

Anna, what's the latest?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, relief efforts are certainly ramping up, as this crisis enters its sixth day.

The international community really has a presence here at the Cebu Airport, which is very much the staging ground of this massive relief operation. But some are saying it's taken way too long for the world to react as people on the ground, Wolf, continue to suffering.


COREN (voice-over): She walks through the ruins, pointing to the bodies of her dead loved ones, looking for others who are missing. Many typhoon survivors are forced to live in the rubble, filth and stench. They have nowhere else to go. As the desperation grows worse, so does the threat of violence. In hard-hit Tacloban, our security forces patrol the streets. Outside the city, eight people were killed when a wall collapsed during a stampede at a government food warehouse. People stood by as people stormed in, taking 100,000 sacks of rice.

Looting is a growing problem. Even children see it all around them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone kept on stealing from stores. And they kept on stealing food and furniture, like, something like that.

COREN: The U.N. emergency aid chief acknowledges relief efforts have been far too slow, but that's beginning to change.

The disaster relief operations certainly stepped up a gear with the arrival of U.S. Marines here at the Cebu Air Base. They flew in on Ospreys and they're here to help coordinate the massive task of getting aid and supplies to the people who so desperately need it.

As more supplies are sent into the disaster zone, survivors are reliving the terror of when the typhoon hit. This 53-year-old woman huddled with her 16-year-old daughter and elderly father, but when the storm surge hit, she couldn't save them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I lost my daughter, my 16-year-old daughter. I told her during the evacuation, go, go, go. Leave -- live me and your Lolo (ph) -- but my daughter said, no, mama, I can't leave you.


COREN: And absolutely a heartbreaking story, Wolf. And there are so many stories like them. You can probably see over my shoulder a C-130 Hercules has landed. And there's a stream of survivors walking off. They're coming from Tacloban, which is that hard-hit town that has suffered so many fatalities.

So, these people have an enormous task ahead of them. You know, they have just been through such horrors, and now they have the enormous task, Wolf, of rebuilding their lives.

BLITZER: And a lot of these people just want to get you have there because of what's going on, the potential for disease. How are they coping?

COREN: That's absolutely right.

The people on these planes, the sick, the injured, the pregnant mothers and their children, the elderly, these are people who want to get out of these hard-hit areas whose homes have been completely destroyed. These cargo planes, they're ferrying aid down to the hard- hit areas and then bringing back survivors.

The Red Cross and other international agencies are helping them, whether they need to get shelter, whether they need to go to hospitals, but it really is such a mammoth task ahead of them, Wolf, as they try to pick up the pieces with what they have left. They're absolutely homeless. And so many of them, as we just said in that story, have lost their loved ones.

BLITZER: My heart goes out to all of these people, wonderful people who are in desperate need.

Anna Coren reporting for us, thank you.

We also have brand-new numbers on the death and the destruction caused by this monster typhoon. Authorities now say 2,344 people are confirmed dead. More than 3,800 are injured; 79 are officially listed as missing. At least 80,000 homes have destroyed.

Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, tried to get a better sense of the destruction outside some of the bigger cities.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We drove south, away from storm Yolanda's epicenter to answer the question, how far had the destruction spread? It took about 40 kilometers before life breathed easier, but then the storm left other dangers. Police warned us of bandits ahead.


(on camera): By the rebels? OK. And why are they doing this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe they're looking for food.

WALSH (voice-over): We turn back towards the heart of the chaos.

(on camera): As you move closer towards the eye of the storm, signs of the devastation begin to grow. And while many of the trees here are left standing, you can seen telegraph poles bent at a slight angle, a sign of the sheer ferocity of what passed through here.

(voice-over): They warned us again of bandits at this school, where the smallest are hungry and sick, and where storm Yolanda was so fantastical in its power, it came straight from Hollywood's own apocalypse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just like a movie "2012," storm Yolanda.

WALSH (on camera): Were you scared?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, super, super scared.

WALSH (voice-over): The basics a struggle, queues for what little gas remains. Trees are scattered like matchsticks as you approach the town of Palo, its two church spires standing defiantly, although 800 people died here in this town of 60,000, some here, where water surged, the winds tearing the back off this house and from their relatives' across the river.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But we have an aunt from the one barangay which was flooded, so they're missing, and three -- three grandchildren, including her. WALSH: Death has been more dignified in Palo than the bodies left on the streets of neighboring Tacloban, even though life itself remains a shell of what it was.

The mayor had mass graves dug fast and now gives free calls to loved once, medicine, even bureaucracy.

REMEDIOS PETILLA, MAYOR OF PALO: Most of them died out in the waters. We have survived this far. So, I think we can rebuild it.

WALSH: The job of simply cleaning up, so mammoth, healing seems a distant idea.


WALSH: Well, Wolf, I'm standing in Tacloban City, which you can see from that journey we did yesterday is pretty much, it seems, the epicenter of where storm Yolanda hit the hardest.

But that's no comfort for anybody here who bore of brunt of it. We are still really waiting for an aid mission to kick through under way. We have seen high-profile politicians here begin to offer their excuses, blaming local government for the slow uptick in aid since the very beginning, despite the warnings this storm was coming.

Aircraft are arriving on a pretty constant basis, and we even see ships out to sea, but is there a sea change in what we're seeing around us? No, and even yesterday night, late last night, we were hearing from one senior official excuses as to why there are still dead bodies lining the streets in Tacloban City.

Quite remarkable that five days after the storm, we drove through late yesterday afternoon, still seeing the same bodies laid out there from that very morning. No attempt to move them. No attempt to get rid of that, very pressing communal hygiene issue, the stench and risk of disease quite remarkable.

At this point, I think people are beginning to wonder whether the choice is to leave, a queue of them doing so at airport constantly here when planes arrive, or try and eke out a life somewhere else in this region, really very little to support life in Tacloban itself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What excuse do the authorities give you when you say, why are bodies still lining but on the street?

WALSH: They blame their own internal bureaucracy, the suggestion that the local government itself here was hit so hard by the storm, it was in fact shattered. It took, it seems, even by their reasoning, 24 hours for the broader national government to step in and begin kicking things in motion.

But, frankly, we have seen troops. We have seen a bit of rearranged trash around the airport here, and to be fair at the city hall in Tacloban City yesterday, we saw a medical program and the beginnings of that machine to get into motion, but, quite simply, their excuse is that it took so long for them to learn what had happened here, that there's a backlog of actually delivering that aid on the ground. But still we're not seeing it on an industrial scale people certainly need here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh with that report, thank you, Nick.

Still ahead: Is the U.S. military doing enough to help these typhoon survivors? I will have an exclusive interview with the Marine Corps general who is in charge of the operation in the Philippines.

And CNN is there as food gets delivered to desperate Filipinos. We're seeing the obstacles, though, along the way.


BLITZER: We're back with our SITUATION ROOM special report, "Deadly Typhoon."

The USS George Washington aircraft carrier is expected to arrive in the Philippines tomorrow. And U.S. military officials say more than 30 land-based aircraft will be in place by Sunday to shuttle relief supplies.

That's just part of the disaster assistance ordered by the Pentagon.

And joining us now, Brigadier General Paul Kennedy with the United States Marine Corps. He's really in charge of the U.S. relief efforts in the Philippines.

There are so many people who are desperate right now. And it looks like they're not getting what they need. What's going on, General?

BRIG. GEN. PAUL KENNEDY, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Wolf, it's a serious situation down here.

Tacloban, as you know, has made the headlines. It's a stricken city of about 350,000 people. We are surging that aid into the airport, moving it out into the neighborhoods. Some of those neighborhoods are inundated with water. Some of them are almost inaccessible, because the roads are so bad.

The Philippine government is clearing that. They're getting aid out to their -- to their people. We have -- we have had an incredible surge of the United States aid coming into the area. It's an international effort, but the U.S. sent two 747s full of humanitarian supplies. They have been off-loaded. We pushed them down to Tacloban and they're being distributed as I speak.


BLITZER: Do you have confidence that the Philippine government authorities know what they're doing, how to distribute all this aid? Because there are folks in desperate need right now.

KENNEDY: Wolf, they're being given a lot of help across the international relief organizations. The United States Agency for International Development is actually linked at the hip with these folks. And so they have got advisers. We have got the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. These guys are experts in distribution of aid, rapid distribution.

As we're building up stocks, we're passing it down to them and they have a plan for how to distribute it. It's a matter of capacity at this point. And so this is day five of the U.S. effort. We have almost defied the laws of physics in getting the George Washington over here.

We have got almost 15 C-130 aircrafts. We have got C-17 aircraft on the way. You have got heavy lifters, you have got trucks. This stuff doesn't just come out of a box. It has to get moved down here. It's a remote location. But it's been, I think, fairly -- it's a confidence-builder for the Philippine government to see this sort of aid coming from the United States and the international community in their hour of need.

BLITZER: We were told, General, that eight people were killed basically in a stampede at a warehouse, a government warehouse. Police and security, we're told by eyewitnesses, basically stood by as people stormed the building, took, what, 100 sacks of rice.

Here's the question. Fortunately, the United States military is there on the ground. Are you authorized to deal with these kids of situations where you see riots unfolding and people getting killed?

KENNEDY: Wolf, the Philippine government has capability and security forces to address their needs. There are pockets where it's going to be tough to get forces out into more remote locations.

If there is in fact any validity to that story, I have heard various rumors, the Philippines' Eighth Division has come down here in force. They have sent brigades across the affected area. And they're restoring law and order. There could be isolated incidents of lawlessness. But as far as I have seen in being down there several times now, flying over the area, I have not seen any evidence of that.

BLITZER: U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Paul Kennedy, thanks so much for that report. We will check back with you tomorrow.

Very disturbing information, but, fortunately, the United States military on the scene helping as best as it can.

Now another take on the relief operation in the Philippines, as hungry storm survivor grab for scarce food and supplies.

CNN's Paula Hancocks has been in the middle of it all. She's joining us live.

Paula, what's the latest.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are seeing some progress here. The fact the airport is now 24 hours, it means there's a lot more aid coming in. And, also, we have been seeing more aid trucks within the army trucks themselves up and down the road to Tacloban.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): Hungry hands reach out for food and water given out by the police. In front of the gutted Tacloban Airport terminal, the World Food Program is loading up its latest shipment.

VALERIE AMOS, UNITED NATIONS UNDERSECRETARY-GENERAL FOR HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS: So it's happening. We will see even more of this tomorrow, but it would have been better if this had happened three days ago, but the weather situation that we faced yesterday was difficult to get anything.

HANCOCKS: Through the dusty road of devastation to the city center, the army transports the supplies, to make sure they get to their destination.

Cheered along the way, WFP has so far delivered around 75,000 family bags.

(on camera): The sight of these trucks driving down the road to Tacloban City is certainly welcome. Those along the sides of the roads are shouting at the truck. And what's inside these is basically high-energy biscuits, so something crucial for the early days of such a natural disaster.

(voice-over): Ten minutes down the road, a government warehouse filled with rice, bread and canned goods is largely undamaged.

REMIA TAPISPISAN, DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL WELFARE AND DEVELOPMENT: That's a bigger space. And so therefore we can serve more and serve faster all the victims of the disaster.

HANCOCKS: Fifty volunteers work around the clock here. They're paid in food.

(on camera): This place is now known locally as the golden warehouse, basically because it wasn't destroyed by the storm and also it hasn't been looted. It's the only one in the area. And there's a reason that it hasn't been looted. The security here is incredibly strong.

An armed effort to protect something as basic as food could well save lives here.


HANCOCKS: The head of the WFP also told me that when it comes to the looting, she heard from her workers that people are actually taking from grocery stores, not for themselves, but to distribute among communities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula Hancocks on the scene for us as well, thank you.

Coming up, our Anderson Cooper, he's also in the disaster zone. He's standing by. We will discuss what he's seeing right after the break.


BLITZER: Anderson Cooper is joining us now from the Philippines. He's been doing an amazing job reporting from the scene.

What was it like? I know it's already Thursday morning in the Philippines in Tacloban, where you are. Anderson, how's it going?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, some big developments overnight.

The Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy had promised that he would get this airplane up and running in terms of being able to receive flights during the evening. Last night, in the overnight hours, it was the first time that planes were able to come in delivering supplies. The Marines delivered on their promise, U.S. Air Force personnel as well.

The question, of course, Wolf, is, will the supplies that have been off-loaded which are now sitting on side of the runway, how quickly will they be able to distributed by local authorities and by Filipino government federal authorities to the areas that need it most?

Even to nearby communities -- so we're talking half-a-mile, a mile away -- there are people still at this airport, hundreds of people lined up who have been lined up all night trying to get on flights out who don't have water, who don't have food. And that's one of the frustrating things.

There's a lot of resentment bubbling up among people here toward local officials, saying, you know, why can't we get water at the airport? There's supplies coming in. You would think at the very least, people at the airport would able to get some water just to stop themselves from being dehydrated as they're waiting to get on flights out. But there's a lot of need, but more aid is coming in, and that's certainly some good news.

BLITZER: What are Filipino officials saying? Why can't people just get water at the airport?

COOPER: There's a lot of I think finger-pointing. Federal officials kind of blame local officials. Local officials say they are simply overwhelmed. They have lost people. They have lost the buildings that they work in. So, they need help from the federal government and obviously from the international community.

You know, it's -- there is a capacity problem. There is simply a lot of roads still are blocked, although now main arteries have been opened, but there's a lack of vehicles to transport goods. There's a lack of fuel. It's very hard to find fuel anywhere. We're down to really our last bit of fuel to run our generator to run this camera.

So it's a very chaotic situation and that, you know, is slowly improving, but certainly not fast enough for people on the ground here. BLITZER: We are going to be watching "A.C. 360" later tonight, Anderson. I know you have got a special report, a lot more news coming up from the Philippines then.

Thanks very much. Good luck to you. Thank the entire crew for all of us.

That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.