Asia-Pacific News

Logistical 'logjam' prevents aid from reaching typhoon-hit Philippines

F. Brinley Bruton and Alexander Smith
Limited medical care for Haiyan survivors

Damaged roads and airports in the Philippines are hampering international efforts to help desperate victims six days after one of the most violent storms to ever make landfall, Typhoon Haiyan, slammed into the country.

"It's as if you've taken [an eraser] and wiped away half the infrastructure. Most of the infrastructure any of us would rely on," Geoff O'Donoghue, International Director for Catholic Agencies for Overseas Development, told NBC News' British partner ITV News. "The reality is that for those local governments -- they are wiped out as well."

(Read more: Health crisis erupts in Philippines following deadly typhoon Haiyan)

Haiyan's 195 mph winds and huge storm surges killed thousands, displaced at least 600,000 and affected 9.5 million people across the Philippines, according to the United Nations. Nearly 4 million of those affected are thought to be children, according to international aid organization Save the Children.

Typhoon victims board a Philippines C130 army cargo plane as she and others are evacuated, at Tacloban airport on November 14, 2013.
Nicolas Asfouri | AFP | Getty Images

Officially, confirmed deaths stood at 2,357 on Thursday morning, according to the government.

On Tuesday, the United Nations began a $301 million appeal for Haiyan's victims. This followed Monday's decision to release $25 million in aid relief from the organization's Central Emergency Response Fund.

(Read more: Will typhoon Haiyan derail the Philippine economy?)

The United States said it would provide $20 million to help in relief efforts. It is also sending the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which carries 5,000 sailors and 80 aircraft, and three U.S. Navy warships — the cruisers USS Antietam and USS Cowpens and the destroyer USS Mustin — to the Pacific islands.

But so far, simply getting food, water, shelter and fuel, as well as vital equipment such as generators, water purifying kits and lighting, into the disaster zone has proved a huge challenge.

Alex Thomson, a reporter with Channel Four in London, was able to track down a family in the small town of Tabontabon, about 20 miles southwest of Tacloban, after being told about them in a Tweet.

Haiyan won't derail Philippines growth: Pro

"Nobody in their right mind would claim that aid is reaching everybody," said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). "As of yesterday, larger planes could not land in Tacloban, and roads that were bad to begin with, now they are full of debris that needs to be cleared."

The airport for the devastated city of Tacloban, on the island of Leyte, was so badly damaged in the storm that much of the aid is being flown into the neighboring island of Cebu.

(Read more: How to help Typhoon Haiyan survivors)

"There's a bit of a logjam to be absolutely honest getting stuff in here," U.N. staffer Sebastian Rhodes Stampa told The Associated Press at the airstrip in Tacloban.

"It's almost all in country — either in Manila or in Cebu, but it's not here. We're going to have a real challenge with logistics in terms of getting things out of here, into town, out of town, into the other areas," he said. "The reason for that essentially is that there are no trucks, the roads are all closed."

The U.S. military conducted approximately 40 flights, bringing in more than 400 relief kers, according to Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, the on-site commander of U.S. military relief efforts in the Philippines.

The military has also airlifted more than 800 displaced people.

In the following 24 hours, U.S. Marines said they expected to receive about 180,000 pounds of USAID relief supplies, including plastic sheeting, hygiene kits, food and water.

Relief efforts remain slow in Philippines

According to Martin Cottingham, a spokesman for Islamic Relief, the destruction in some areas is so complete that aid workers have walked for hours and not seen a single standing building.

"Telecommunications are down, impassible roads are blocked with collapsed buildings, fallen trees, and gridlock," he said.

Police and soldiers are struggling to keep order across the region amid widespread looting and reports of armed gangs roaming the streets.

Tacloban's mayor, Alfred Romualdez, urged residents to flee the city because local authorities were having trouble providing food and water and maintaining order, The New York Times reported. He said the city was in desperate need of trucks to distribute relief shipments that were accumulating at the city's airport as well as equipment to pull decaying corpses from the rubble.

The precarious security also worries humanitarian workers.

"The Tacloban team is facing enormous constraints because we cannot move around freely due to the security situation," said Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Program, which is coordinating logistics for the aid and recovery effort.

Krista Armstrong of Save the Children, which is waiting for 100 tons of aid and four mobile health units to land in Cebu on Thursday morning, called on the government of the Philippines to help make sure humanitarian workers could do their jobs.

"We want the government to do all it can and step up its efforts to clear roads and improve security," she said.

Desperation triggered anarchy in communities flattened by the typhoon, and police were working to keep order across the region.

Eight people were crushed to death as thousands of people stormed a rice warehouse in Alangalang and carted away up to 100,000 sacks of rice, National Food Authority spokesman Rex Estoperez told The Associated Press.

Soldiers sent to restore order also fired into the air to scatter crowds scavenging through the ruins in Tacloban, where an NBC News crew spotted dozens of uncollected bodies in the streets on Wednesday.

Standing amid the rubble, Jennica Ekaya told the BBC that survivors were only looking for food.

"We can survive without these houses ... we'll sleep anywhere. But we need food. Only food," she said. "No money, no places, no televisions, no cellphones, no technology. Food, we need food."