TACLOBAN, Philippines — The air was thick with the stench of decay as sweating workers lowered the plastic coffins one by one into a grave the size of an Olympic swimming pool.
Scores of unidentified bodies were interred together yesterday in a hillside cemetery without any ritual — the first mass burial in this city shattered by last week’s Typhoon Haiyan.
Six days after the disaster, some progress was being made in providing food, water and medical aid to the half-million people displaced in the Philippines. Massive bottlenecks blocking the distribution of international assistance have begun to clear.
Soldiers on trucks gave out rice and water, and chainsaw-wielding teams cut debris from blocked roads to clear the way for relief trucks in Tacloban, the capital of the hardest-hit Leyte province.
Thousands of people continued to swarm Tacloban’s damaged airport, desperate to leave or to get treatment at a makeshift medical center.
“We know the gravity of our countrymen’s suffering, and we know that, now more than ever, all of us are called on to do whatever we can to help alleviate our countrymen’s suffering,” President Benigno S. Aquino III said in a statement.
Authorities say 2,357 people have been confirmed dead, a figure that is expected to rise, perhaps significantly, when information is collected from other areas of the disaster zone.
With sweat rolling down their faces, John Cajipe, 31, and three teenage boys who work at the Tacloban cemetery placed the first body in the grave’s right-hand corner.
The second body followed two minutes later, carefully placed alongside the first. And so on, until scores of coffins filled the 6-foot (2-meter) deep grave. A ritual to sprinkle holy water on the site is expected to be held today, one week after the typhoon struck.