Deadly typhoon creates health crisis in the Philippines

One of the most intense typhoons on record, Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) left catastrophic destruction behind. It was 3.5 times more ferocious than Hurricane Katrina — and big enough to stretch from Spain to Sweden. The stories coming out of the Philippines are unimaginable. Rushing water and wind tearing children away from their parents’ arms. A city of 200,000 in which no buildings appear to have survived intact.

The Red Cross says it has ordered 10,000 body bags in preparation for the number of bodies it believes it will have to retrieve. The official death toll, currently in the hundreds, is likely to grow quickly as rescue crews are better able to assess the situation.

What is left behind are some 4.2 million people who have been affected by the storm, many of them injured, thirsty or hungry. The Philippines storm has created serious food and water shortages.

A second round of deaths may be imminent, given limited food and water, along with pools of standing, possibly polluted water amid a breakdown in ordinary sanitation. Relief agencies are worried about outbreaks of disease and infections in the storm’s wake.

Medecins Sans Frontieres says in the first stage of its recovery efforts, it will work to keep infection rates down and then work to vaccinate people for tetanus. The agency will also provide ongoing psychological help to the victims of the disaster many of whom will be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“People in the Philippines are used to typhoons, but the scale of this is completely unprecedented. People will suffer a lot of trauma from the death and destruction they are seeing and will be scared for future typhoons. We will make room for people to speak with a professional and will set up group sessions where people can talk through their trauma.”

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