Wrecked hospitals and clinics in storm-battered northeastern Luzon
and dirty drinking water are raising fears of a medical crisis after
more than 10 children died, health authorities warned Wednesday.
A Coast Guard ship, with medical facilities, has
docked in the port of Real in Quezon as two US Navy Seahawk
helicopters flew shuttle missions between Manila and the worst-hit
towns along the east coast of Luzon.
Relief workers said water and medicines are
scant in Real, Infanta and General Nakar, the towns that bore the
brunt of the storms and typhoon “Yoyong” last week.
Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said the disaster
area has so far been spared any outbreaks despite the thousands of
people crowded into evacuation centers and the disruption of water
“What is a concern to us is the destruction of
health facilities in the worst affected areas,” he said.
Dayrit said the hospital in Infanta was left “nonoperational.”
Journalists who visited the area earlier in the week said it was
half-mired in mud, medicines and intravenous bottles lying in the
Many local clinics were also damaged and local
health personnel displaced by the storms and floodwaters, which
still cover much of the region.
“The health situation can deteriorate anytime
because of the destroyed property,” said Dayrit.
The UN Children’s Fund and the World Health
Organization have expressed concern about the health of those
crowded into relief centers.
According to Unicef more than 10 children have
died of diarrhea or dysentery in evacuation centers and health risks
were growing for lack of drinking water.
The UN agencies said there was a huge risk from
lack of potable water and a threat of malaria from stagnant water
and the weather.
“We have recorded more than 10 [deaths];
therefore there is a huge mortality risk because there is not much
drinking water,” said Damien Personnaz, spokesman for Unicef in
There was limited access to drinking water and
living conditions in some 348 evacuation centers “are extremely
bad,” Personnaz said.
Dayrit said health workers had been sent to the
ravaged towns along with supplies of medicine and drinking water to
avoid any outbreaks.
But he said overcrowding in the evacuation
centers was decreasing as more people were returning to their homes.
In Infanta Rotary has set up a clinic in the
local school to administer medical aid.
The center, staffed by volunteer Red Cross
workers, doctors from Manila and civilian nurses, is still in dire
need of medicines.
One nurse who did not want to be named said the
situation was very difficult. “There is no potable water and
medicine is in short supply. The children are already
starting to come down with colds and we had to have two children
flown out this morning for Manila to be treated,” the nurse said.
About 40 Marines from the 3rd Marine
Expeditionary Force, based on the Japanese island of Okinawa, landed
in Clark Air Base overnight, where US and Filipino authorities set
up a base of operations, US military spokesman, Capt. Dennis
Hundreds more Marines and sailors, most of them
maintenance, medical and support personnel, were en route from
Okinawa onboard C-130 transport aircraft, helicopters and a US ship,
US forces “will remain only as long as
necessary for the Philippines to conduct sustained disaster
relief,” a Pentagon statement in Washington said, adding that the
troops will also provide potable water, medicine, tents, blankets
“This is a serious endeavor. The safety and
well-being of the Filipinos are a top priority and we’re
responding as best we can in as speedy and effective way,”
Williams said, adding that it will take a few days for the US forces
to assemble and coordinate with Philippine authorities.
But the Philippine Air Force spokesman, Lt. Col.
Restituto Padilla, said about six US transport helicopters could be
in the air as early as Thursday.
“We have warehouses full of goods that need to
be transported,” he said.
Most of the destruction was wreaked by typhoon
“Winnie,” which blew through northeastern provinces on November
29, killing at least 689 people and leaving 715 missing.
Yoyong struck the same region three days later,
killing 51 people and leaving 39 missing.
Mayor Arsenio Ramallosa of Real said the town
needs food, water and medicine as well as tents and tarpaulin for
shelter. But he added that relief supplies were flowing into the
city, replenishing items that had run out.
He said workers clearing roads that were blocked
by landslides were slowly making their way to Real, but that he was
told by engineers that large boulders may have to be blasted with
Most of Infanta remained covered in mud, and
hundreds of survivors crowded a school converted into an evacuation
and medical center. Intermittent rain and high winds were hampering
cleanup operations and threatening to ground air support.
Nenita Ruidera, 67, a survivor, jostled for a
kilo of rice which she said she would try to stretch for several
days. “I would have to make porridge with it so it would last
long,” she said.
Ruidera, along with her four children and four
grandchildren, had survived the mudslides but said many remained
sick and should be evacuated.
On Tuesday night two US C-130 Hercules transport
aircraft arrived at Clark carrying tons of food and clothing for
victims of the storms.
Twelve more US military helicopters from Okinawa
are expected to join the relief operations within the next few days.
A seven-man US “combat lifesaver team” has
also arrived to help storm casualties.
-- AP and AFP