Asia-Pacific News

Health crisis erupts in Philippines following deadly typhoon Haiyan

Nancy Snyderman, Harry Smith and F. Brinley Bruton, for NBC News
Residents loot water damaged sacks of rice from a rice warehouse in Tacloban in the eastern Philippine island of Leyte on November 11, 2013.
Noel Celis | AFP | Getty Images

A health crisis erupted on Monday in a city that was devastated by one of most violent storms to ever hit land as survivors of Typhoon Haiyan begged for help and picked through the wreckage for food.

There was not enough clean water and cases of dysentery were reported in Tacloban, a city of some 200,000 people that was without electricity and facing severe water and food shortages. Dysentery is an intestinal disease that can be deadly after natural disasters when clean water and proper sanitation are scarce.

Bodies lay in the streets of Tacloban as survivors stumbled among the shells of shattered buildings and splintered trees.

(Read more: Will super typhoon derail Philippines' economy?)

The region's infrastructure was destroyed by giant waves and winds of up to 235 mph when the storm slammed into central Philippines on Friday, which made bringing aid to hardest-hit communities almost impossible. The military was deployed after reports of looting.

Over 4 million affected by Philippines typhoon
Over 4 million affected by Philippines typhoon

Even water from Tacloban's normally reliable pumps had been compromised, and few people appeared to be boiling water as suggested by officials. Many people said they were thirsty and there was little access to aid.

There were reports of one mass grave with up to 500 bodies in Tacloban, according to Reuters.

"It is so difficult. It is like we are starting again," Awelina Hadloc, the owner of a convenience store in Tacloban, told Reuters as she foraged for instant noodles at a warehouse that was almost bare. "There are no more supplies in the warehouse and the malls."

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Residents of Tacloban were relying almost entirely on three military transport planes flying from nearby Cebu city for supplies and evacuation.

One official said that some 10,000 people were killed when Typhoon Haiyan hit Friday, although the government and independent aid agencies had not verified that number. On Monday, a spokesman for the country's military said it had confirmed 942 people were killed and 275 were confirmed missing as a result of the storm.

Haiyan leveled Basey, a seaside town in Samar province about six miles across a bay from Tacloban. About 2,000 people were missing in Basey, according to the governor of Samar province.

The storm is estimated to have destroyed up to 80 percent of buildings in its path in the provinces of Samar and Leyte, where Tacloban is located.

Most of the damage and deaths were caused by huge waves that inundated towns and swept away coastal villages in scenes that officials likened to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Residents of Tacloban told terrifying accounts of being swept away by a wall of water. Jean Mae Amande, 22, said she was washed several miles from her home by the surge of water. The current ripped her out to sea before pushing her back to shore where she was able to cling to a tree and grab a rope thrown from a boat.

"It's a miracle that the ship was there," Amande said.

Nearly 620,000 people were displaced and 9.5 million "affected" across the Philippines, the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement.

(Watch this: Philippines Red Cross: Typhoon is 'overwhelming')

"The situation is bad, the devastation has been significant. In some cases the devastation has been total," Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras told reporters.

Mobs attacked trucks loaded with food, tents and water on Tanauan bridge in Leyte, Philippines Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon saud.

Dozens of residents clamored for help at the airport gates in Tacloban.

"Help us, help us. Where is President [Benigno] Aquino? We need water, we are very thirsty," one woman shouted. "When are you going to get bodies from the streets?"

Maria Elnos, a nurse at Tacloban's one main hospital, was among hundreds pleading unsuccessfully to get on a military C-130 plane late Sunday.

"I lost my house, I lost everything," she told Reuters. " I want to get out. My food supply will run out in two days."

Aid workers and officials worried that smaller communities outside Tacloban had fared even worse.

"While many communities are very difficult to reach, with roads, airports and bridges destroyed or blocked with debris, agencies have begun airlifting food, health, shelter, medical and other life-saving supplies and have deployed specialist teams and vital logistics support," United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

A World Vision official said early reports suggested that as much as 90 percent of northern Cebu had been destroyed. An aid team from Oxfam reported "utter destruction" in the northern-most tip of Cebu, the charity said.

Weather forecasters said they believed this was the strongest storm ever to hit land.

"After researching this, we believe that when it hit the Philippines this may have been the strongest ever recorded to storm to make landfall," said Kevin North, a lead meteorologist at the Weather Channel. "There have been more powerful storms over the sea, but this could be the strongest ever to hit land."

More bad weather was on the way with a depression due to bring rain to the central and southern Philippines on Tuesday, the weather bureau said.

On Sunday, American officials dispatched a team of some 90 Marines and sailors—the first wave of U.S. military help—flew to the Philippines to assist with search and rescue operations and provide air support.

U.S. Pacific Command had authorized the US Marines to bring in transportation, including C130 cargo planes.

"Not just military but USAID (US Agency for International Development) is here, international relief organisations are here," said Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, deputy commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force.

"Obviously the military has logistics capabilities that are unique. So the United States Pacific Command has authorized Marine Forces Pacific to bring in transportation. We have C-130s coming in," he said.

(Read more: Philippine IPO in the eye of the storm)

USAID is also sending emergency shelter and hygiene materials expected to arrive early this week. It is sending 55 tons of emergency food to feed 20,000 children and 15,000 adults for up to five days. The U.S. Embassy is sending $100,000 for water and sanitation support.

—By Nancy Snyderman, Harry Smith and F. Brinley Bruton for NBC News, with reports from Reuters and the Associated Press