TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines — Efforts to help survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines ramped up even as the government admitted Friday that the pace was still slow, a week after the storm left thousands dead and nearly 2 million homeless.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said in Tacloban City, capital of the worst-hit Leyte province, that trucks carrying supplies had reached 30 out of 40 towns in the province.
Workers with chainsaws cut up toppled trees around the city hall while trucks hauled away bodies and debris. The clearing operations went on through the night by portable spotlight.
“Our relief effort is progressing, although it’s still at a slow pace,” Roxas told reporters. “Every day is better than yesterday. There is nothing fast enough in a situation like this because so many were affected and infrastructure damaged.”
More trucks, relief supplies and workers were on their way to other affected areas, where residents have complained that relief has been slow.
“Everybody’s pushing, faster, faster, faster,” deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said in Manila. “We need to provide support for about 1.357 million people, and that means putting out 140,000 food packs every day.”
She called for more volunteers to help pack goods in Manila and other staging areas, such as the nearby province of Cebu.
U.S. soldiers helped distribute relief supplies to survivors desperate for food and water. Long queues to receive supplies formed outside Tacloban’s city hall and in nearby villages.
Residents, hopeful they could rebuild, started cleaning whatever was left of their houses after a tsunami-like storm surge smashed into Tacloban.
“I grew up here, so it’s difficult to just leave,” said businessman Roger Camtos, 36, cleaning the grills on the windows of his parents’ two-story house.
The roof was torn off, with only the facade left standing. “We will slowly rebuild this house so we can still come home here,” he said.
The death toll in the disaster remains unclear, with the government putting the count at 3,621, while the United Nations earlier reported that Haiyan had killed 4,460 people. At least 1,140 people were listed as missing.
Eduardo del Rosario, head of the national disaster relief agency, said the government was slow in tallying because of the need to validate all figures reported by local officials.
He noted that, in one of the affected areas, the agency’s checks showed the initial figure provided was twice the actual number.
“If ever (the death toll) goes up, I hope it will be very slight,” del Rosario said.
The U.N. clarified Friday that the actual death toll from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines was at about 3,600.
John Ging, director of the operational division at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said Thursday’s figure of 4,460 was an estimate released by the Philippine government, while the number of verified dead was currently 3,600.
Damage and production losses from the disaster, estimated at $674 million, were expected to dampen the country’s economic growth in 2013, according to the National Economic and Development Authority.
Assistance from dozens of international donors has reached nearly $150 million, the government said. President Benigno Aquino has ordered an accounting of all foreign aid to deter the corruption and waste seen after past disasters.
Thousands of survivors have fled to Manila or nearby provinces from the areas laid waste by the storm.