Two Weeks After Typhoon, Philippines Sees Signs Of Normal Life

It's been two weeks since the typhoon devastated Tacloban city in the Philippines. Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy is in Tacloban overseeing U.S. military relief efforts in the Philippines, and he says the city is picking up the pieces, businesses are re-opening and he sees signs up hope in the residents. Kennedy gives Melissa Block an update on the state of affairs in the country.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Two weeks ago today, Typhoon Haiyan battered the Philippines. And the death toll is now more than 5,200 people. Thousands of Americans, both civilian and military, have been involved in relief efforts there. Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy is overseeing recovery efforts on the ground in the city of Tacloban. When we spoke today, he told me that Tacloban is a long way from a full recovery. But General Kennedy says there are now some encouraging signs, compared with what he saw when he first arrived three days after the storm.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAUL KENNEDY: What we saw at the airport was despair. When we landed, people were queued up, not really sure how they're going to get out of the city. At that point, didn't know that we would be flying in and out. The airport itself was cleared out. The first few days, you would've thought it was a complete zoo. And today was the third time I've been in the city by ground. Previously, it was just by helicopter. And so there are stores open. Gas stations are dispensing fuel. The bank - it's right outside the airport - is functioning. People are smiling. I mean, they're not happy. I won't give you that impression. But they look like they have a sense of purpose in rebuilding and they don't look like they've lost all signs of hope.

BLOCK: Haven't lost all signs of hope. I guess that's something. But we do hear still lots of stories of people dying in hospitals for lack of care, lack of medicine, lack of antibiotics. The medical situation still seems really, really tenuous.

KENNEDY: I got to tell you, you know, I monitor that real closely with USAID, and there's folks from WHO, World Health Organization, are out here. I mean, you name it. It's an alphabet soup of international relief organizations, and nobody have said that.

BLOCK: I'm thinking of report in the New York Times, a reporter who interviewed a victim who was in the hospital. And then a couple of days later, he was dead. He was not getting treated.

KENNEDY: I won't refute that because I don't know the specifics of that case. There is no lack of medical care that has insurged into this disaster zone.

BLOCK: I guess the question would be: Did that medical care get there as quickly as it could have or should have? Or was there a critical period when people were really fending for themselves and didn't have the care they needed?

KENNEDY: Again, you know, I was here on the 11th. There was a problem with the hospital initially. There's four hospitals in Tacloban, and only one of them was operating. And so we pushed teams into those sites. By certainly the middle of the first week, the medical situation, I think, was pretty well in hand. So I think that the response has been pretty good. You'd feel pretty confident about how this has been handled.

BLOCK: What are the long-term reconstruction needs, and how does this area try to recover from such massive amounts of damage?

KENNEDY: When the storm surge came through, the sea level rose about 25 feet, and it carried inland all sorts of debris, vehicles. Ocean-going boats have been carried inland a considerable distance. All the power lines were knocked out. Thank God the city water system remained intact. But just the number of truckloads to even take debris out will take at least a year.

BLOCK: A year to cart away the wreckage.

KENNEDY: Right. It's going to take a while.

BLOCK: General Kennedy, thanks so much for talking with us today.

KENNEDY: It's my pleasure.

BLOCK: That's U.S. Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy. He's in charge of ground efforts for recovery in Tacloban following Typhoon Haiyan.

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