The death toll following the disaster wrought by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) has according to a Wall Street Journal report gone up to more than 5,200 breaking the record set by Typhoon Uring (international code name Thelma) in 1991 which killed about 5,100 people a large proportion of which was in Ormoc which suffered flash floods and mudslides that killed more than 4,900.Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III had previously assured CNN news reporter Christiane Amanpour in the initial days following Yolanda’s departure from the Philippines that the death toll was likely to be “only” about 2,500. But, the Wall Street Journal continues…
The latest official count nearly doubles the high-end estimate released by President Benigno Aquino III in the days after the storm, when he urged the country to remain calm after a provincial official said that 10,000 could be dead. The official was removed from his post.
According to President BS Aquino, the original estimated death toll of 10,000 “came from local officials who perhaps were ‘too close’ to the center of destruction to make an accurate guess.” That official, Elmer Soria, the chief superintendent for the central Philippines province of Leyte, was reportedly fired for “sharing the alarming estimate, which was quickly a focus of reports from the local news media and international news organizations.” The official explanation issued by the Philippine National Police (PNP) was that Soria was “relieved from his post” because “he might need to go through a stress debriefing.”
Perceptions that Soria’s dismissal was “wrongful” have reportedly been mounting. An online petition had recently been organised calling for his reinstatement and is resonating across circles that suspect that the Aquino government is downplaying the extent of the crisis…
The petition, initiated by a group called San Marcelino Zambales International, cited news reports that Soria “incurred the ire of government officials for expressing his view on Haiyan/Yolanda’s rampage in Eastern Visayas.”
As of this posting, it has gathered 291 signatures.
“Whether the death toll is 2,000 or 10,000, the numbers do not really matter,” it said. “The devastation of Leyte, Samar, Antique and other areas is complete. Suppressing and/or deliberately underestimating the mortality rate will not change the fact that many people died as a result of the cataclysmic natural disaster for which the nation and its leaders were unprepared and unable to cope with the magnitude of the loss and destruction.”
It called Soria’s estimate “far more on point than what the current government and its leaders are willing to accept and acknowledge.”
Most of the dead were victims of violent storm surges at the height of Yolanda’s strike and that many more possibly swept out to sea could remain unaccounted for for weeks. And with relief efforts hampered by logistical challenges and poor coordination, many more could succumb to disease and exposure to the elements.
Dr. Richard Brennan of the World Health Organization (WHO), called the challenges in the coming weeks “monumental.”
Brennan says the most immediate health concerns are tetanus and untreated injuries that pose a risk of infection. In the next days and weeks, poor sanitation and overcrowding pose a high risk of diarrheal and respiratory diseases.
“Those who have survived this disaster are going to suffer from dehydration, starvation and diseases that have to do with lack of access to clean water,” says Dr. Hilarie Cranmer, a disaster medical relief specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital who spent months in post-tsunami Indonesia and responded to the Haitian quake. “The most common problem will be death due to dehydration from diarrhea.”
The WHO have also warned against mass burials which are already on-going in the most devastated areas left by the storm. Many of the dead being buried had not been identified. The WHO also confirmed the Philippine Department of Health’s (DOH) advisory that decaying corpses do not pose a risk of infectious diseases spreading.
In the Philippines, however, there are no state facilities for processing the deceased. As is with even the most basic services, Filipinos rely on private enterprise to fill the gap — in this case, funeral parlors. Back in 2011, when Typhoon Sendong devastated the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in northern Mindanao, there were even reports that mass graves were being dug in garbage dump sites despite the same DOH advisory regarding corpses being issued then.
“The widespread belief that corpses pose a risk of communicable disease is wrong. Especially if death resulted from trauma, bodies are quite unlikely to cause outbreaks of diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera, or plague,” said the WHO.
Back in 2011, in the aftermath of the Typhoon Sendong disaster, I wrote…
Indeed, the people of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan are not the victims of Typhoon Sendong per se. They are the victims of systemic factors that made Sendong far deadlier than it should have been. They are victims of our collective inability to learn — a collective character all but reflected by the people we elect to the highest offices of the land.
The next big Philippine disaster is just around the corner — as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. Do we plan to learn anything from this one?
I guess not.[Photos of Typhoons Yolanda (2013) and Sendong (2011) disastera courtesy NBCNews.com and Ako si Rabsky respectively.]
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