Tacloban: A city devastated by last week`s typhoon buried some of its dead in a mass grave in a hillside cemetery on Thursday, a somber reminder of the tragedy that has left the Philippines with the monumental task of providing for some 11.5 million affected people.
Aid was beginning to reach some of the 545,000 people displaced by Typhoon Haiyan that tore across several islands in eastern Philippines six days ago, killing thousands of people.
Most of the casualties occurred in Leyte province, its capital Tacloban, and Samar island. Many bodies are still lying along the roads in the city and others are buried under debris.
Outside the Tacloban City Hall, dozens of bodies in bags were lined up today, waiting to be trucked to the cemetery just outside the city for burial. The stench of death filled the air.
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In the first such operation, 30 bodies in leaking black bags were lowered into graves without any prayers being said. "I hope this is the last time I see something like this," said Mayor Alfred Romualdez. "When I look at this it just reminds me of what has happened from the day the storm hit until today."
Officials said efforts had been made to identify the bodies so families have a chance of finding out what happened to their loved ones in the days and weeks to come. It was not immediately clear whether this included DNA testing.
Authorities say 2,357 people have been confirmed dead in the disaster, but that figure is expected to rise, perhaps significantly, when information is collected from other areas of the disaster zone.
Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian chief who toured Tacloban yesterday, said some 11.5 million people have been affected by the typhoon, which includes people who lost their loved ones, were injured, and suffered damage to their homes, business or livelihoods.
"The situation is dismal ... Tens of thousands of people are living in the open ... Exposed to rain and wind," she told reporters in Manila today.
She said the immediate priority for humanitarian agencies over the next few days is to transport and distribute high energy biscuits and other food, tarpaulins, tents, clean drinking water and basic sanitation services.
"I think we are all extremely distressed that this is Day 6 and we have not managed to reach everyone," she said.
Along with aid workers, Philippine soldiers on trucks were distributing rice and water. Chainsaw-wielding teams cut debris from blocked roads, as thousands swarmed the airport, desperate to leave.