ORMOC, Philippines (USA TODAY) --- The relief effort for typhoon-ravaged Philippines islands slowly cranked up Monday amid stunning devastation that authorities say may have left as many as 10,000 people dead.
A contingent of U.S. Marines have arrived in the country to aid in rescue and recovery operations. But the task is an immense one, with tens of thousands of people desperately in need of food and water following Typhoon Haiyan, also called Yolanda.
This port town, known for its lively waterfront of restaurants and bars, lies battered by day and in almost complete darkness at night. Here and there, spots of light illuminate tired faces on the sidewalk, where people sit waiting for their cellphones to recharge. And that marks major progress.
After the deadly super typhoon crashed through the central islands of the Philippines Friday, Ormoc residents still have little electric power and are running low on cash, as no ATMS are working, while supplies of food and water remain limited.
Telecom firms offered the free charging facility starting Sunday, the day some cellphone signal coverage was also restored and locals could get word out of their survival.
No such breakthroughs are reported in the still cut-off northeast portion of the island province of Leyte, around Tablocan city, and in Samar province further east. Police estimate at least 10,000 people were killed Friday, mostly by the storm surge in that area that accompanied the high winds and rain. Bodies still hang in trees there, and extra police have been drafted to prevent incidents of looting.
"I don't believe there is a single structure that is not destroyed or severely damaged in some way — every single building, every single house," U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy said after taking a helicopter flight over Tacloban. He spoke on the tarmac at the airport, where two Marine C-130 cargo planes were parked, engines running, unloading supplies.
In Ormoc, on the west side of Leyte, survivors spent Monday searching for news of relatives, hunting supplies and chasing down electricity and cellphone signals in streets littered with trees and debris. They also blessed their good fortune in simply staying alive.
When Haiyan hit, Tina Delacerna was holed up at her village home close to Ormoc with five family members. "We all cried and prayed, and thank God only the roof was blown off, and we are all okay," said Delacerna, 40, who on Sunday was able to call and reassure her husband, an overseas worker in Dubai, like many other Filipinos.
Family members still crouch under tables when rain falls through the now open roof, but know they are luckier than neighbors whose entire homes were lost, she said. The neighborhood school and church were also destroyed.
"It may be three to four months before electricity is restored, so we offered free charging at eight sites from Sunday so people can tell their loved ones they are safe," said Joel Biol, 40, a telecom engineer for Globe Telecom. "At times like this, the cellphone is a second lifeline."
The firm will offer free local and international calls from Tuesday at one central office.
From the waterfront to hundreds of meters inland, most properties in Ormoc show signs of serious damage.
"It feels like a haunted city, the streets are a jumble of trees and wires," said Mary Eileen Martinez, food and beverage manager at the Ormoc Villa Hotel, which has stayed partly open despite lacking power and extensive room damage.
A previous disaster, when a tropical storm triggered a flash flood here in 1991, may have killed more people here, at least 5,000, said Martinez, but this time the damage to property appears more extensive. "I don't know when we can recover," she said.
Other residents aired worries about the future even as they cherished their survival. "My (5-year-old) daughter was crying and hugging me tight all the time, as the winds hit and blew off our roof," said Rozel Brase, 27, who lives in a village near Ormoc.
Both Brase and her husband work as ballroom dancing instructors, but fear their customers will be otherwise occupied in the difficult months ahead. "I don't think people will be dancing in the next year," she said Monday, queuing outside a pharmacy, one of the few shops still able to open.
Residents are coping in the Filipino way, after frequent acquaintance with tragedy, said Jonelle Ymas, 43, head of field operations for Globe Telecom in Leyte.
"After every disaster and calamity, they move on and smile, even though they may be depressed inside," he said. "We work as a team and treat each other as family and help each other out," he said. "We'll rebuild our houses, accept what happened and move on."