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While relief arrives in Philippines, rural areas suffer.

Byline: Andrew Jacobs

QUINAPONDAN, Philippines -- Day after day, the mayor of this storm-shattered town makes the two-hour drive past flattened villages and splintered palm groves to the nearest functioning airport, where he begs for provisions from those who run the relief supply staging area for eastern Samar Island.

"My people are starving,'' he tells the government workers, whose requisition notebooks do not favor this rural flyspeck, population 16,525. "Yesterday someone died of hunger.''

After days of logistical logjams and transportation paralysis, relief supplies have begun pouring into the ravaged midsection of this island nation, with U.S. Osprey aircraft and C-130 cargo planes delivering pallets of rice and water to the airports in Tacloban, on Leyte Island to the west, and Guiuan, also here on Samar Island. International relief organizations have been fanning out in earnest across the disaster zone.

But while hard-hit urban areas are finally getting adequate supplies to stave off hunger and thirst, the region's rural hinterland has been largely left to fend for itself in the week since Typhoon Haiyan barreled through with winds up to 190 mph.

According to UNICEF, 13 million people have been affected.

The U.S. Navy said Saturday that aircraft from the carrier George Washington had flown 77 sorties and delivered 11 tons of water and medical supplies since it arrived off the eastern coast of Samar on Thursday.

Once on the ground, most of the aid is distributed by Philippine officials to cities across Leyte and Samar Islands, mostly by helicopter.

Perhaps most desperate are the far-flung islets whose residents, isolated from the country's main islands, already live from hand to mouth.

On Saturday, members of a U.S. medical team touched down in Homonhon, a fishing island of 1,500 that was the first to bear the full brunt of Haiyan as it swept west.

Margaret Aguirre, communications director for the team, from the International Medical Corps, said it was the first help the residents had received since the storm struck.

"They were in desperate shape,'' she said, describing a range of untreated injuries and diseases, mostly advanced infections and ailments from a week of living unsheltered in the elements. Medics, she said, treated about one-tenth of the residents.

In Quinapondan, most people have been surviving on coconuts and camote, a Philippine sweet potato that residents have been digging up from their waterlogged fields. "Camote is very nutritious but it's not enough,'' the vice mayor, Rosula Sablo Mambulao, 58, said with a weak smile.

Compared with Tacloban, a city of 220,000 where at least 800 died, Quinapondan is faring reasonably well. There were just 10 deaths here, with 170 people injured, according to the meticulously maintained white board propped up on the steps of City Hall.

Still, the town has been leveled, with 80 percent of the buildings badly damaged or destroyed, including the hospital, all the schools and the 2-year-old civic auditorium, its remains lying in a tangled heap near the town basketball court.

After days of returning empty-handed, a municipal truck sent to Guiuan came back to Quinapondan on Friday with just 15 sacks of food, enough to feed a few hundred families.

But on Saturday, after waiting an entire day amid the nonstop roar of Seahawk helicopters and cargo planes, Mayor Nedito A. Campo had better luck. He secured 40 sacks of free supplies from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and then bought 400 more bags of rice, at $30 apiece, from a government warehouse in Guiuan.

Shortly before dusk, a cheer went up as the truck pulled up to City Hall, where scores of people were waiting for food or a chance to make a free two-minute call on a recently arrived satellite phone powered by a generator.

Campo, bedraggled from the past week, smiled as volunteers carried the provisions into the lobby, where days earlier 250 people had sought shelter as water sloshed in from shattered windows.

He spoke with pride about how his town had escaped the looting and chaos that afflicted places like Tacloban, but said he was worried about the future, when international sympathy turns elsewhere and the town's residents are left to fend for themselves.

"I think we'll be OK for the moment,'' he said. "I just don't know if people will be so civilized a month from now.''
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Author:Jacobs, Andrew
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Nov 17, 2013
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