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World

'We are looking at a different kind of typhoon'

Thousands have reportedly been killed by Typhoon Haiyan. DW spoke with World Vision Philippines, whose response teams are racing to supply aid in the aftermath of one of the most powerful storms on record.

Based in Manila, World Vision Philippines has experience with typhoon disaster relief. Some of its staff are en route to the areas worst struck by Typhoon Haiyan. Gjeff Lamigo manages communications of the organization's emergency response support unit.

DW: How many people have you sent to the areas struck by Typhoon Haiyan?

Gjeff Lamigo: There are three assessment teams that have been sent to Leyte and Samar - the hardest hit islands - and also the Pinai islands.

What are they seeing there?

They're still on their way - they're trying their best to get there via a different route. The airport in Tacloban City, for example, is non-functional. It's completely destroyed. So we're flying to Cebu and taking the ferry to Leyte [65 kilometers away, or 40 miles].

Most of the footage and horrific images of destruction are from Leyte and the Tacloban areas. The storm surge literally engulfed the city.

On the roads leading to Tacloban, there are a lot of fallen electric posts and uprooted trees. So we might be doing some walking. This response will not be without challenges.

How does this compare to other typhoons that have struck the Philippines?

We are looking at a different typhoon - a combination of typhoons. It's different in magnitude and the diameter of the storm. It touched down six times - like experiencing six whips, one at a time.

How does World Vision plan to help those in need?

Over the next few weeks, the question is how to address the number of displaced, who will need food to sustain themselves over the next few days and some non-food essentials like bedding and blankets. And of course they'll need clean, potable water - especially the children. We hope to help around 45,000 families in the next few weeks.

Will you actually be able to reach those families?

Residents stand on the ruins of their house amidst other destroyed houses after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines November 10, 2013. One of the most powerful storms ever recorded killed at least 10,000 people in the central Philippines province of Leyte, a senior police official said on Sunday, with coastal towns and the regional capital devastated by huge waves. Super typhoon Haiyan destroyed about 70 to 80 percent of the area in its path as it tore through the province on Friday, said chief superintendent Elmer Soria, a regional police director. REUTERS/Erik De Castro (PHILIPPINES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT) -- eingestellt von haz

Hundreds of houses have been destroyed in Tacloban city

I'm not saying this will be easy. We've been seeing the images: large trees, some of the roadways and bridges are rendered useless. So the challenge to bring in aid and help these areas is really staggering.

We will have to work together [with the government]. We've already participated in some joint assessments coordinated by the UN.

Do you know anyone who was caught up in the storm?

One of my staff was there prior to the landfall, and we haven't heard from her due to a communications breakdown. We're hoping that as the team reaches the area, we can check in on her whereabouts and condition.

We also have colleagues in the area. The house of one of my colleagues was totally damaged. And she found out about that while she was serving in another relief operation. So it's quite heartbreaking to hear stories like that.

This is an impartial disaster. It doesn't choose between rich and poor.

But are the areas struck by the disaster poorer relative to Manila?

Most of these areas are poor areas - they subsist on crops and fishing and rice. But in Aklan and Leyke there's also a tourism industry. And Bohol - much of the economy depends on tourism. I think four airports have been suspended.

Here in Manila we weren't affected much by the impact of the typhoon. But we were prepared for it. We had a level 2 alert in Manila. Any quick movement by the typhoon and it could have reached the capital - and not just with strong winds, but a large volume of water. Manila is really vulnerable in terms of flooding.

Was the country on the whole prepared?

I believe people in the Philippines have learned from the typhoons of the last five years - the people and the government and the communities. They have worked together and invested in disaster preparation. Case-in-point: Before the onset of this disaster, there were massive pre-emptive evacuations that took place.

The communication networks were really cut off in multiple regions. It brought lot of anxiety and uncertainty among the people. It's still causing agony for loved ones.

We have weather authorities and disaster councils that are constantly monitoring and giving alerts so that we're prepared. Right now, we're monitoring another low pressure area that could potentially develop into another typhoon. On average, the Philippines experience 20-25 typhoons per year. And five of those could be really major.

A police officer in the Philippines spoke of 10,000 dead from Typhoon Haiyan. Can you confirm those numbers?

As of 6 p.m. last night, there were 138 deaths recorded. I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up being hundreds more. As we speak, there could be bodies just emerging, floating. More and more reports in other provinces are coming in. It's also a challenge for us to really monitor and verify these reports.

But as we're focusing on the deaths in all of this, I think it's also the right time now to divert our attention to the survivors. There are almost a million people affected by this disaster. And we need all the support to help them go on with their lives and recover from this tragic crisis.

Gjeff Lamigo manages communications of the support unit for emergency response at World Vision Philippines.

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