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Death toll from Typhoon Haiyan? 'Unlikely we'll ever know'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 19th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Philippines government, already under the gun for failing to get aid fast enough to the stricken in the wake of this month's Typhoon Haiyan, has made a feeble attempt at "damage control." One official listed the death toll from the super storm at 10,000 was relieved of all of his duties. However, eyewitnesses put the death toll at far higher, with 10,000 dead in the city of Tacloban ALONE. Still others say that an official death toll will likely remain unknown, so widespread was the destruction.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - One of the most powerful storms ever recorded, Typhoon Haiyan killed thousands of people in the central Philippines. Huge waves swept away entire coastal villages, devastating the region's main city of Tacloban.

Reaching, counting and reporting the number of people killed has proved an enormous challenge since the typhoon struck. Roads and airports have been all but destroyed. Power is still intermittent, and food and fuel remains scarce. Telephone lines are down, and mobile phone coverage is spotty.

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Bloated bodies lie beside swamps and streets in many parts of the country. Counting the dead has simply not been a priority because survival itself is a more urgent task.

President Benigno Aquino predicted last week that the toll would come out to 2,000 to 2,500. He said that the more dire estimates might have been influenced by "emotional drama."

Numbering those killed in the storm is grim, slow and inexact work. The Philippine government put the count last week at a very conservative 3,982. Few agree with that figure. The United Nations says that crews still haven't reached the more remote islands.

"It is unlikely we'll ever know the exact total," even after a final and official figure is reached. That's the word from the Philippines country representative for the Asia Foundation Steven Rood said by email.

Casualty reporting after any natural disaster is inexact, as rescuers still have to contend with downed power lines and telephone outages.

A very decentralized government in the Philippines, coupled with a communications network that relies heavily on mobile technology is adding to the confusion. Radio backup, thought to be unnecessary, was abandoned by civilian offices years ago.

Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez says that some people may have been swept to sea, their bodies lost forever to the storm. One whole neighborhood, population 10,000 to 12,000, was simply deserted, he said.

Three morticians, working alone are struggling to identify dozens of decomposing bodies at a mass grave, work at a measly pace of 15 bodies per hour.

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