Beckham in Tacloban to help Yolanda survivors

by Karl Malakunas, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 13 2014 02:03 PM | Updated as of Feb 14 2014 02:31 AM

Former England soccer captain David Beckham greets victims of super Typhoon Haiyan at an evacuation centre in Tacloban city in central Philippines February 13, 2014. Photo by Erik De Castro, Reuters.

TACLOBAN - (UPDATE 2) Football superstar David Beckham visited the Philippines on Thursday to give comfort to survivors of the Asian country's deadliest ever typhoon -- although not everyone was sure of his identity.

Hundreds of survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan rushed out of their tent shelters in the central city of Tacloban to welcome the global celebrity, who is nevertheless unfamiliar to many citizens of the Philippines, where basketball rather than soccer is king.

"He's so handsome. I heard he plays for the Azkals," gushed mother-of-four Darilyn Bascug, referring to the Philippines' national football team.

Shortly after Beckham's arrival, another woman from the area approached an AFP reporter and asked timidly: "Is that man a celebrity?"

Wearing a black T-shirt with the logo of the United Nations Children's Fund, the 38-year-old ex-England international visited a tent city for several hundred families who lost their homes when giant waves unleashed by Haiyan crashed into Tacloban's coast.

Beckham spent over an hour inside a UNICEF tent set up as a nursery, where he played with dozens of young typhoon survivors.

The father-of-four stopped to greet babies and children staying in a shanty home made of scrap corrugated iron and wood.

"Very happy, very happy to visit everybody," Beckham told reporters.

"Oh, my God," a young woman screamed as she reached out to grab his hand.

He also visited a warehouse for relief goods donated by the UN in the nearby town of Palo.

Beckham, who ended his illustrious career last year, is on his second visit to the Philippines in his role as a "goodwill ambassador" for UNICEF.

The star, who was travelling with heavy security, flew by private plane Thursday to Tacloban, one of the areas worst-hit by Haiyan.

The typhoon, one of the strongest to ever hit land, left about 8,000 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in November last year.

It also left more than four million people homeless as it tore up 171 towns and cities with winds of up to 315 kilometres (195 miles) an hour.

Weeks after the disaster, Beckham and his wife Victoria, formerly of the Spice Girls, donated 20 boxes of clothes and shoes to the British Red Cross to raise money for the victims.

Local businessman Ramil Sumapig, 42, told AFP he watched Beckham on cable television play for European clubs Manchester United and later on Real Madrid.

He ended his career in the United States.

"He played with artistry. He was able to bend the ball," said Sumapig, who nevertheless said his three children were too young to see Beckham in his prime and idolised Argentina's Lionel Messi instead.

Beckham last visited the Philippines in December 2011, where he played a seven-a-side football match with young Filipinos at a government-run centre for abused or abandoned children.

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