Kerry visits Tacloban; US sends $25M in new typhoon aid

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TACLOBAN CITY (Updated) -- Overwhelmed by the massive damage wrought by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in this city, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced nearly $25 million in additional aid Wednesday to help the Philippines deal with the devastation.

Kerry flew to Tacloban, where he saw what was left of entire towns wrecked by the monster storm's winds and tsunami-like storm surges. He visited a food distribution center run by USAid and government welfare officers, talked with officials and consoled survivors.

US Secretary of State John Kerry
MANILA. US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a joint news conference with Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, Philippines, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. (AP)

"This is a devastation unlike anything that I have ever seen at this scale," Kerry said at a temporary USAid headquarters in Tacloban.

"It is really quite stunning," he said. "It looks like a war zone, and to many people it is."

The new food aid, shelter materials, water and other supplies he announced for typhoon-lashed families bring the total US assistance package to $86 million for one of its closest Asian allies.

Washington will also back a microlending program and a Philippine government effort with Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble Co. to help more than 2,000 small convenience stores repair and restock their shops. Many malls, gasoline stations and stores in Tacloban, a lively city of more than 220,000 people, were ransacked shortly after the storm hit.

Kerry praised survivors struggling to rebuild their lives amid the ruins.

"Last month's typhoon broke the world's heart," he said, "but what is certain is it didn't break the spirit of the people here."

One of the most ferocious typhoons to hit on record, Yolanda left more than 6,000 people dead and nearly 1,800 others missing. It damaged or swept away more than 1.1 million houses and injured more than 27,000 people.

More than four million people were displaced, with about 101,000 remaining in 300 emergency shelters in typhoon-smashed central Philippine provinces.

In Manila, President Benigno Aquino III appealed for help from diplomats and international aid agencies, saying Yolanda left massive damage and losses amounting to $12.9 billion.

Accompanied by Cabinet members dealing with the typhoon's aftermath, Aquino presented a four-year reconstruction plan to build new shelters away from newly declared danger zones, repair infrastructure, revive the livelihoods of tens of thousands of farmers and fishermen, and restore government services.

Aquino said his government would aim for resilience from future storms as it helps the typhoon-ravaged provinces rise from the calamity.

"We cannot allow ourselves to be trapped in a vicious cycle of destruction and reconstruction," Aquino said. "We are going to build back better."

Kerry met with Aquino in Manila on Tuesday and announced $40 million in new US assistance to Philippine security forces to help the country better guard its territorial waters amid rising tensions with China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The new aid is intended to complement a $32.5 million assistance package, which Kerry announced Monday in Vietnam, to help Southeast Asian nations protect their territorial waters. Up to $18 million of that money will go to provide Vietnam's coast guard with five new fast patrol boats.

Both Vietnam and the Philippines have competing territorial claims with China, which further stoked tensions recently when it declared a new air defense identification zone above disputed territory with Japan.

Kerry urged all nations involved in the disputes to "lower the intensity" and resolve their rifts on the basis of international law, specifically mentioning China's leaders. (AP/Sunnex)

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