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Typhoon wreaks havoc across Philippines, leaving destruction
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TACLOBAN, Philippines (AP) — Workers in this typhoon-shattered city buried scores of unidentified bodies in a hillside mass burial Thursday as desperately needed aid began to reach some of the half-million people displaced by the disaster.
Dozens more bodies were lined up in bags outside Tacloban City Hall waiting to be taken to burial sites. Six days after Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines, many of the dead were still lying along roads as survivors searched for bodies buried under the rubble.
Philippine soldiers on trucks distributed rice and water as chainsaw-wielding teams cut debris from blocked roads. Thousands more swarmed the city’s damaged airport, desperate to leave or to get treatment at a makeshift medical center.
The USS George Washington aircraft carrier arrived in the Philippine Sea near the Gulf of Leyte on Thursday, and will set up a position off the coast of Samar Island to assess the damage and provide medical and water supplies. The carrier and its strike group brought 21 helicopters, which can help reach the most inaccessible areas.
Authorities say 4,460 people have been confirmed dead in the disaster, but that figure is expected to rise, perhaps significantly, when information is collected from other areas of the disaster zone.
In the city’s first mass burial, scores of bodies in leaking black bags were lowered into graves without any prayers being said.
John Cajipe, 31, and three teenage boys who work at the local cemetery placed the first body in the grave's right hand corner. Sweat rolled down their faces in the blistering sun as they carried the body.
The second body followed two minutes later, carefully placed alongside the first. And so on, until scores of bodies — all unidentified — filled the grave.
In addition to the USS George Washington, about a half dozen other U.S. ships — including a destroyer and two huge supply vessels — are already in the area, along with two P-3 aircraft that are being used to survey the damage from the sky so that planners can assess where aid is most needed.
Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian chief who toured Tacloban on Wednesday, said some 11.5 million people have been affected by the typhoon, which includes people who lost their loved ones, were injured, and suffered damage to their homes, business or livelihoods.
“The situation is dismal ... tens of thousands of people are living in the open ... exposed to rain and wind,” she told reporters in Manila on Thursday.
Aid has been slow to reach the 545,000 people displaced by the storm that tore across several islands in eastern Philippines last Friday.
Thousands of people remain jammed in the Tacloban City Astrodome without food or water.