Global aid raises hopes of relief

A United States aircraft carrier arrived and Japan announced its biggest peacetime mobilisation, raising hopes that relief is in sight for survivors in this battered Philippine city.

On Thursday, soldiers dug mass graves to lower bodies too numerous to be given individual burials while others distributed rice and water to a hungry, half-crazed people reeling from the effects of Typhoon Haiyan.

Amid rising criticism for President Benigno Aquino's handling of the disaster, the USS George Washington, with 5,000 sailors on board and an eight-strong flotilla of vessels, sailed in to help in the rescue and evacuation efforts following one of the most powerful storms ever recorded on land.

Britain said it was despatching the biggest ship in its fleet, the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious.

Japan said it would join its treaty ally to aid in the effort, sending a signal to all of Asia at a time when China, the dominant power, has been noticeably less generous in its reaction.

Ms Valerie Amos, the United Nations humanitarian chief who toured Tacloban on Wednesday, said some 11.5 million people had been affected.

"Tens of thousands of people are living in the open... exposed to rain and wind," she told reporters in Manila on Thursday.

"I do feel that we have let people down."

With a confirmed death toll of 2,357 and bodies inside homes and in back alleys putrefying in the tropical heat, fear of a disease outbreak led the authorities to conduct mass burials.

More than 100 bodies were buried along a hillside, even as dozens more waited their turn, some wrapped in plastic.

"I hope this is the last time I see something like this," said Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, who administers the city of half a million people.

With homes and trees flattened, puddles of water in some patches and weary people either squatting silently or whimpering for help, Tacloban looks like it has been struck by Nature's equivalent of a nuclear holocaust.

Every now and then, eyes turn skyward for help as the drone of an incoming C-130 transporter or the scream of helicopters heading for the airfield is heard.

The planes bring hope to a few, and continued despair to those denied entry on the return flight.

Some choose to stay.

"It is pointless to flee because we face an uncertain future there and I don't have a cent in my pocket," said resident Edgar Masinloc.

"Tacloban is our home."

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