Philippines survivors attend church services

Thousands of grieving survivors have attended church services in areas of the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan nine days ago.

In many places, including the mostly flattened city of Tacloban in Leyte province, Masses were held in half-destroyed and flooded churches.

The international aid effort is starting to have a major impact, with Britain’s HMS Daring warship joining the huge relief operation.

Haiyan killed more than 3,600 people.

The typhoon – which had some of the strongest winds ever recorded on land – also left about 500,000 people homeless.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) group of charities urged countries to take urgent action on climate change.

It said Typhoon Haiyan was a glimpse of the future for millions who will be at risk from extreme weather.

‘Faith strengthened’

On Sunday, scores of churches in the mainly Roman Catholic country held services that were attended by thousands.

Many came to give thanks for surviving the storm, while others prayed for their loved ones that died.

“I wish to thank the Lord. We asked for his help for all the people who survived this typhoon to be able to eat and continue a life that is hopefully more blissful,” Belen Curila told the AFP news agency at a service in Guiuan – the first town to be hit by the typhoon.

“The Lord has strengthened our faith and made us stronger in order for us to survive and start off all over again.”

 Filipinos scramble for aid which is starting to arrive via helicopter, as Rajini Vaidyanathan reports
 Remote parts of the Philippines cut off by Typhoon Haiyan have started to receive aid, as Rajesh Mirchandani reports

In Tacloban, one of the worst-hit cities, Father Amadero Alvero led a service for some 500 people in the half-destroyed and flooded Santo Nino church.

“Despite what happened, we still believe in God,” he said.

‘Slow’ response

As the morning Masses were held, the international relief effort continued to build.

Patrick Fuller of the International Federation of the Red Cross told the Associated Press news agency they were “ramping up a major relief effort and the supplies are coming in”.

Mr Fuller, who is in Tacloban, said: “We’re setting up an emergency response hospital here, water and sanitation units.” But he said people in affected areas would need long-term support with rebuilding.

Both the Red Cross and the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said they would have mobile surgical units up and running in Tacloban by the end of the weekend.

US Navy helicopters have been dropping food, water and other supplies from the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which arrived off the coast on Thursday.

The HMS Daring – which is now is off the coast of Cebu City – is the latest vessel to join the relief effort.

Its crew is now preparing to despatch aid to the Panay Island, in the far west of Cebu.

Typhoon Haiyan was one of the most powerful typhoons ever to hit land, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.
Many Sunday services were held in destroyed churches, like this one in Palo, south of Tacloban.
The city of Tacloban has been virtually flattened
US soldiers are now flying in supplies to the Tacloban area

Another British ship – the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious – is on its way to the Philippines.

Britain has announced it will give an extra £30m ($50m) in emergency aid, bringing UK assistance to £50m. The DEC said donations it had collected from the public had reached £33m.

Meanwhile, China – which had been criticised for its relatively small amount of initial aid – said on Saturday it was ready to send rescue and medical teams to the storm-hit areas.

However, widespread infrastructure damage is hampering efforts to distribute aid to some areas.

Desperate survivors are still trying to leave the coastal city of Ormoc, 105 km (65 miles) west of Tacloban, Reuters news agency reports.

Philippine Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman acknowledged in a radio interview that the national relief response had been too slow to reach many areas.

“We will double our efforts to distribute relief goods because we’ve been hearing complaints that a lot of people have yet to receive relief goods,” she said.

About 11 million people have been affected by Typhoon Haiyan, according to UN estimates.

It was one of the most powerful storms ever recorded on land, with winds exceeding 320km/h (200 mph) unleashing massive waves. Tacloban’s airport was left in ruins.

Health experts have warned that the worst-affected areas are entering a peak danger period for the spread of infectious diseases.