A joint Foreign Ministry and Homefront Command advance team left for the Philippines on Sunday night as part of Israel's effort to offer disaster relief in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
The Category 5 super-storm ravaged six central Philippine islands over the weekend, displacing more than 600,000 people and leaving 10,000 people dead -- a figure authorities believe will grow as rescue operations continue.
According to a Channel 2 report, the team, comprising five Homefront Command officers and a Foreign Ministry official, will meet with Philippine officials to assess the situation and explore an extensive disaster relief plan.
"The advance team is a small team of officers who will assess the situation on the ground and determine where a field hospital can be set up. A decision on whether a larger mission will follow is still pending," a Homefront Command official told Channel 2, adding that the team includes medical officers and search and rescue experts.
Army Radio reported Monday that four Israelis traveling in the storm-stricken region are still unaccounted for, adding that the Foreign Ministry does not believe they are missing, but rather that they are stranded in areas currently devoid of telecommunications services.
"We know [the Israelis] were not in the area that was directly hit [by the typhoon]. They were apparently traveling in an area just on the edge of the storm, where no casualties were reported. We assume that they haven't been able to contact anyone because all the lines are down," Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Menashe Bar-On told Army Radio.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee announced Sunday that it is sending its own team of disaster relief and development experts, which will focus on both immediate needs and long-term development.
"We immediately activated our network of global partners and will leverage our previous experience in the region to provide immediate, strategic relief to survivors in their time of need," JDC CEO Alan Gill said in a statement.
According to Gill, the relief efforts "are especially poignant for us, given the Philippines' life-saving actions during World War II, when the country offered safe haven to more than 1,000 Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi onslaught. It is our privilege today to honor that historic debt."
The American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International have given the Israeli relief organization IsraAID grants to help fund its humanitarian efforts in the Philippines. The American Jewish World Service is also contributing funds to disaster relief efforts in the wake of the typhoon.
Death toll expected to rise
Also on Sunday, U.S. aid groups launched a multimillion-dollar relief campaign for the Philippines. One group, World Vision, said a shipment of blankets and plastic tarpaulins would arrive from Germany on Monday as a first step in its plan to help 400,000 people.
About 90 U.S. Marines and sailors headed to the Philippines in a first wave of promised military assistance for relief efforts, U.S. officials said. President Barack Obama said the U.S. was ready to provide additional aid to the disaster-ravaged region.
According to Philippine media, Typhoon Haiyan destroyed about 70 to 80 percent of structures in its path.
Rescue workers struggled to reach towns and villages in the central Philippines on Monday as they tried to deliver aid to survivors of the powerful typhoon. Philippine President Benigno Aquino, facing one of the biggest challenges of his three-year rule, deployed soldiers to the devastated city of Tacloban to quell looting and said he might impose martial law or a state of emergency to ensure security.
"From a helicopter, you can see the extent of devastation. From the shore and moving a kilometer inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami," said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, who was in Tacloban, Leyte's capital, before the typhoon struck. "I don't know how to describe what I saw. It's horrific."
Nearly 620,000 people were displaced and 9.5 million "affected" across nine regions, the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement issued Sunday, adding the U.N. was stepping up critical relief operations in the Philippines as a result of the devastating impact the typhoon had since hitting on Nov. 8.
"Access remains a key challenge as some areas are still cut off from relief operations," the U.N. office in Manila said in a statement. "Unknown numbers of survivors do not have basic necessities such as food, water and medicines and remain inaccessible for relief operations, as roads, airports and bridges were destroyed or covered in wreckage."
"We can just for the moment relay that according to the national authorities the dead could reach 10,000," David Pierre Maquet, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying. "It could be close to the reality, but the trouble is in some western highlands there is no access so nobody can confirm these estimates."
Jonathan Adams, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Industries, hedged that Typhoon Haiyan's total economic impact may reach $14 billion.