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Unidentified bodies piling up after Typhoon Haiyan hits Philippines

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Residents stand along a sea wall as high waves pounded them amidst strong winds as Typhoon Haiyan hit the city of Legaspi, Albay province, south of Manila, on Nov. 8, 2013. GETTY IMAGES/AFP/Charism Sayat.

It’s a daunting task- identifying hundreds of corpses in typhoon ravaged Tacloban in central Philippines.

A small team of just six people are working around the clock to identify the quickly decaying bodies.

But without more forensics personnel, it’s a painfully slow procedure.

“It’s going very slow. It’s a process that was not studied or thought of,” Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez said.

“That’s why I’m saying that, since in this country we always have this problem, every year we’re hit by strong typhoons. There must be a template already for this. It’s about time our government prepares for the next storms.”

The process of body identification is crucial. With the official death toll at nearly 4,000, victims families are eager to get information on missing or lost loved ones.

“Well, it’s very important to try and identify each body, especially for the families,” forensic pathologist Raquel del Rosario-Fortun said.

“That gives them closure. You know, some of them are crying ‘I just want to get the body.’ Because that means they’re confronted with the idea that he’s really dead, or she’s really dead.”

There are more than 1000 bodies at this site alone, but forensic officials say with such a small team they can only examine about 15 bodies per hour.

Meanwhile, in Guiuan, desperately needed aid has finally reached the survivors, but both survivors and relief workers are under no illusion that this is just the start of a long road to recovery.

The tow,  located on Samar Island’s southeastern tip, used to have the look and feel of a tropical paradise, but it is a paradise no more. Haiyan made its first landfall at this coastal town where the Philippines meets the Pacific Ocean, leaving almost nothing for survivors.

“When I came back here, everything was destroyed. We have no food, no nothing,” said Norma Waniwan, a victim of the typhoon.

Norma is living in a tiny shack that she and her husband built out of the ruins of their home, providing shelter for her mother and their six children. For 10 days she and her family barely survived.

The urgency of  the situation is not lost on the international non-government organizations (NGOs) but getting help to this remote place is a logistical nightmare.

“There are a lot of villages and towns affected and badly affected. This is one thing. I mean they need everything. That’s the first thing. The second thing, I mean, it is logistically complicated to organize a pipeline,” said Andre Paquet, a field coordinator for the Red Cross.

Norma and many others in the area have received basic necessities like rice, sugar and canned food. Paquet stated that these are only 3-day rations, to ensure a greater number of survivors get at least some aid.

People are feeling hopeful once again, however, as the airport has opened and streams of international aid is beginning to come through to this town that was almost lost.

“Every morning I wake up, I keep wishing this is all not true. I feel like my future, my children’s future has been shattered. But I’m very grateful that we all survived this,” said Waniwan.

Canadians who want to donate through the Red Cross can do so via redcross.ca and designate typhoon Haiyan. They can also donate $5 by texting redcross at 30333.

Canadians needing urgent consular help following Typhoon Haiyan can email sos@international.gc.ca or call collect 613-996-8885.

The federal government has set up phone numbers for Canadians looking for information on relatives and friends who may have been caught in the affected areas. They are 1-800-387-3124 or 613-996-8885.