MANILA — International aid groups see a "major humanitarian crisis" unfolding in the central and southern Philippines amid reports of water and food shortages, power outages and looting, as the government scrambles to reach isolated areas a week after the onslaught of Typhoon Rai (local name: Odette).
The national disaster agency said over 486,000 people affected by the super typhoon remain in evacuation shelters, while power restoration is impossible before Christmas Day, a highly anticipated holiday in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.
"I wish I can say that we are OK, but unfortunately, to be truthful about it, the province is in a state of devastation," said Arthur Yap, governor of the hardest-hit province of Bohol.
The government Thursday confirmed the death of 258 people, while 47 remained missing. The national police independently counted 375 fatalities.
CARE Philippines Program Manager Ansherina Talavera said the relief organization is "looking at a major humanitarian crisis," while its country director David Gazashvili described the level of destruction as "Haiyan-esque," referring to the 2013 super typhoon Haiyan that claimed the lives of over 6,000.
UNICEF Philippines meanwhile called for an "urgent" response to over 900,000 children affected by the typhoon and facing a greater risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Rodrigo Duterte has placed areas in southern Luzon, central and eastern Visayas, and northern and northeastern Mindanao under a state of calamity that allows a faster release of state funds for rehabilitation.
As he went around typhoon-hit areas, Duterte said the government is willing to cut the budget for other projects in order to prioritize giving cash aid to the typhoon victims.
A number of countries have so far pledged help for the Philippines, among them Japan, the United States, Britain, Australia and China.