US Secretary of State John Kerry toured the typhoon-devastated central Philippine city of Tacloban on Wednesday, expressing shock at the “stunning” destruction and vowing that Washington will not abandon its key ally.
“This is a devastation unlike anything that I have ever seen at this scale,” Kerry told reporters as he toured a temporary US aid supply depot for survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan.
“It really is quite stunning. It looks like a war zone in every respect and for a lot of people it is,” he said.
“You have to see this to really believe it, and to feel it and understand it.”
Tacloban, a city of 220,000 people, bore the brunt of Haiyan’s fury last month as towering tsunami-like waves whipped up by the storm obliterated many of its coastal districts.
Nearly 8,000 people were killed or remain missing, with Tacloban accounting for more than 5,000 of the total.
Kerry said the destruction was “absolutely staggering” and would leave many speechless.
“Entire communities levelled, water up to the second storey of the airport tower, and all of this covered in water,” he said, gesturing toward tents during his visit to the US Agency for International Development depot near Tacloban’s airport.
He said President Barack Obama had sent him to offer condolences and assure Filipinos of unwavering efforts in assisting the Philippines, which is considered a key US ally in the region.
“Last month’s typhoon broke the world’s heart, but what is certain is that it didn’t break the spirit of the people here,” he stressed.
Kerry paid tribute to the resilience, courage and determination of the survivors while waiting for international aid.
The United States, a long-time military ally of the Philippines, mounted a massive humanitarian response, deploying millions of dollars’ worth of aid.
It also sent an aircraft carrier group and committed 1,000 Marines to help in the immediate rehabilitation effort.
The still impoverished Philippines is battered by an average of 20 storms a year, and Filipinos have long had to deal with weather-related disasters as best they can.
But the fury of Haiyan, with its maximum 315 kilometre (195 mile) per hour winds, was unprecedented.
It wrecked more than a million homes, causing some 12.9 billion dollars in damage and destruction, according to the government.
A rehabilitation plan launched by President Benigno Aquino on Wednesday calls for spending of $8.17 billion over four years to help millions affected.
He said most of the money would be used to rebuild more disaster-resilient communities.
“The task immediately before us lies in ensuring that the communities that rise again do so stronger, better and more resilient than before,” he told foreign diplomats and aid officials in Manila.
Across Tacloban many remain homeless and are living in crowded camps or in temporary shelters made from scrap wood and tarpaulin.
A faint stench of decay hangs in the air, almost six weeks after the tragedy, and authorities are still struggling to fully restore some essential services as Christmas approaches.
“We are trying to get the Christmas spirit up, but it is not easy when you’ve lost relatives,” said Catholic priest Amadeo Alvero, who administered last rites to hundreds of dead or dying victims in the immediate aftermath of Haiyan.