Nightly News   |  November 13, 2013

American doctors set up clinic in remote Philippines town

The town of Tanauan, devastated by the typhoon, is almost gone – yet it is a place that has escaped the world’s attention. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman arrived in the region and found a group of American doctors from Mammoth Medical Missions who have been working nonstop, using desks as operating tables.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> with, again, this desperate situation in the philippines . as of now the good news is 33 nations have joined in the relief operation pledging almost $100 billion so far, but the problem increasingly is getting there with help, with supplies, with people and then fanning out. new pictures show the area we have been concentrating on, the city of tacloban before and after this typhoon. pictures taken at the airport today show the crush of people, all victims, all awaiting an airlift out or in some cases just fresh water or food. we are going to begin tonight with the reporting of dr. nancy snyderman who today traveled by chopper to an area on the eastern edge of the philippines we have not seen since the storm. the people there are so desperate our crew was concerned their helicopter would be mistaken for a relief flight when it landed and quickly surrounded.

>> reporter: there is a sense of desperation. we don't have any protection. we are assessing how vulnerable we are. the town of tanawan is almost gone. it is a place that for the most part has escaped the world's attention. it is foodless, waterless and increasingly lawless.

>> reporter: we are making a group decision whether this is safe enough to proceed or not. we decided to stay away from the crowds and touch down in a remote spot. everyone is saying they need food and water. this area looks more devastated to me than anything we have seen in tacloban . immediately we were surrounded. everybody here has told me that the american doctors have a clinic down here. these good people are going to show us the way. we set down. we were thronged by nice, kind people who said they have buried so many. they are hungry, thirsty. a man came and offered us a ride. it is a policeman named raul. so raul now is taking us into town where we believe there are american doctors who set up a mash unit. then we find it. city hall . badly damaged and now functioning as the local hospital. inside, american doctors and veterans from across the country are feverishly working. wooden desks serve as operating room tables and flashlights as doefrs other overhead lights.

>> i have never been in a war. this is what i would imagine it's like.

>> reporter: patients are everywhere including this elderly woman who had her leg amputated yesterday. i'm sorry. the work is nonstop. doctors haven't slept in four days.

>> to fix this, to doctors have to clean it up.

>> reporter: upstairs dr. sara may from seattle treats an 8-year-old girl whose leg was cut by flying debris.

>> unfortunately we have been doing procedures like this every day. we let them wake up, dress the wound, give them the one day of antibiotics we have and have them come back the next day.

>> reporter: you need cipro, keflex. antibiotics, anesthetics, even dressings are in short supply.

>> we are cutting one towel into 24 so we have enough to get through. we need supplies quickly.

>> reporter: for those who have survived, the challenges of putting life back together are just beginning.

>> after they are day at that mash unit, dr. nancy snyderman is back at base camp tonight at cebu in the philippines . let's start with what's behind you. this is common. we saw it in hurricane katrina , in haiti. this is a two-stage thing. the aid arrives on big pallets but getting it to people is another thing entirely. my questions are how did those american doctors get to that outpost in the first place and now how do we get the list of supplies you reeled off? how do we get that to them?

>> reporter: you're right about the supplies around me. there are canned meats, sardines and rice. this is like a human being . the big arteries are open but things stockpile in the capillaries to the people. that's the tough part. the doctors were ingenious. they were on their way to a five-day medical mission to mexico, heard about this, rerouted, got to hong kong and then cebu. the military and c-130s took them to tacloban and left them there. they put their supplies on cars and jeeps. a lot of them walked. they heard about the town that basically the world hadn't been reporting. found city hall . this is mammoth medical mission. they are a bunch of doctors from around the country, but based out of the united states . i have to say saving lives and doing heroic work. here's the problem. because they packed for a five-day, end-to-end medical mission, they are leaving on friday. they don't know if anyone will take their places. these are normal working doctors with day jobs to go back to on monday.

>> you're right. that's going to be the problem in the philippines , getting arteries of supplies open. dr. nancy snyderman , thank you for your reporting from there today and tonight.