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Church aid workers say Filipinos affected by Typhoon Haiyan in urgent need of help

Young children beg for food in the Philippines after last month's devastating super typhoon (CNS)

Nearly two weeks after Super Typhoon Haiyan tore through central Philippines, Catholic aid workers have said that people in the region are greatly in need of help.

Sandra Harlass, emergency relief coordinator and health adviser for aid organisation Malteser International, said she was concerned about getting emergency food to displaced residents in Eastern Samar, the easternmost province among the central islands that took the first lashing from Haiyan.

“The needs are basically huge,” said Harlass, who had just returned to Manila from the tiny towns of San Antonio and Amandayehan, across the strait from the worst-hit city, Tacloban.

“Ninety percent of the houses are destroyed… most were just washed away from the storm surge. Together with the houses, of course, all the food supplies were washed away, all the non-food items, like blankets, mosquito nets, everything is just gone.”

The team of assessors found people who had had very little to eat nine days after the storm struck. Harlass said one of the villages had received food from the government once; the other had none.

“Overall, they are highly food insecure because there is no schedule of regular food delivery, so people don’t know when the next food (is) coming,” she said. “What they usually receive is (five pounds) of rice for a family, which just lasts a day, maybe two.”

Harlass said Malteser International was getting food and basic supplies to these villagers and they had a longer-range plan of providing food for 30 days.

Across the water to the west, in the province of Leyte, Jennifer Hardy, Asia region spokeswoman for Catholic Relief Services, speaking from the shell of the cathedral in Palo, just south of Tacloban, said some people left homeless by the storm were living on the cathedral grounds.

“People are just devastated,” she added. “Some children are smiley. Filipino culture is very smiley. Some children are like that but other children just cannot look you in the eye, they don’t smile. For that to happen in Filipino culture – I mean, they’ve suffered a lot.”

A 15-foot storm surge hit Tacloban after the typhoon on November 8, creating a tsunami-like effect that swallowed up people in its fast-rising floods and left bodies strewn in its wake. The area suffered a majority of the 4,000 deaths recorded so far. The typhoon’s winds knocked down trees, power lines and houses, leaving a jumble of debris that cut off entire villages and left hundreds of thousands of people hungry for days.

Hardy said she was “so thankful” that the Church was there, in the midst of the devastation “not just coordinating relief goods through CRS and local churches, but also giving that important pastoral care.”

She said the priests were taking the time to talk people through their grief, even as the priests themselves were grieving. “And offering hope through faith,” she added.