GIPORLOS, Philippines - The first food and medical aid began reaching isolated towns Saturday devastated by the typhoon that killed thousands in the Philippines, as humanitarian groups warned of huge challenges in accessing hundreds of small island communities.
The unprecedented ferocity of Super Typhoon Haiyan on November 8 and the scale of destruction it caused completely overwhelmed the initial relief effort, leaving millions in the worst-hit central islands of Leyte and Samar hurt, homeless and hungry, with no power or water.
Eight days later, a working aid pipeline was in place on the ground, funnelling emergency supplies to those left destitute in the ruins of Leyte's Tacloban city, while helicopters flying off the aircraft carrier USS George Washington brought some relief to outlying areas.
In Giporlos, a small coastal town of around 12,000 people in eastern Samar where the typhoon first struck, a US Seahawk helicopter flew in the first relief supplies Saturday, landing in the playground of a ruined elementary school.
"We're very happy even if it isn't really sufficient for us," said resident Maria Elvie Depelco.
"We accept a little, and we survive. Because there's no more food, no houses here," she said, pointing to the flattened remains of the town where 12 people died.
In the nearby town of Guiuan, planes laden with supplies were landing and taking off every few minutes from an old military airstrip that had been reopened.
The Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said they would have mobile surgical units up and running in Tacloban by the end of the weekend.
"The place really needs to be saturated with relief," Red Cross Asia-Pacific spokesman Patrick Fuller said in Tacloban.
"People literally have nothing. Money is useless here."
Since the arrival of the USS George Washington late Thursday, the US military said it had delivered 118 tonnes of food, water and shelter items to Tacloban and elsewhere, and airlifted nearly 2,900 people to safety.
Japan confirmed it would send almost 1,200 troops to join relief efforts along with three warships, 10 planes and six helicopters - its military's single largest aid deployment.
"We don't know how we'll start again," said Benny Creer, 53, as he helped a relative sweep debris from his shattered home in Tacloban.
"In this situation, there are no poor, no rich - everyone is equal," Creer said.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council on Saturday put the official death toll at 3,633, many of them killed by five-metre (17-feet) storm surges that hit Tacloban.
Another 1,179 people were listed as missing and nearly 12,500 injured, and the death toll was widely expected to continue climbing as more complete assessments were made.
The UN reported that 4,460 had been confirmed dead, and said Saturday that 2.5 million people still "urgently" required food assistance.
An estimated 13 million people were affected by the storm, which swept off the Pacific Ocean with some of the strongest winds ever recorded, including nearly 1.9 million displaced survivors.