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Typhoon Haiyan: Aid begins trickling into desperate Philippines communities

By Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Cheryll Simpson and Marian Smith, NBC News

CEBU, Philippines -- International aid began to trickle into some of the hardest-hit areas of the typhoon-ravaged Philippines Saturday, more than a week after the most powerful storm ever to hit land devastated the islands and killed thousands.

Navy helicopters from the USS George Washington warship were dropping food and water supplies to isolated communities in and around Tacloban, the city hit hardest by Typhoon Haiyan.

Relief from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Israel and Australia has also arrived, but it wasn't clear if the assistance was making it to farther-flung communities also desperate for help. It is a monumental task, with around 7,000 islands in the Philippines to account for.

Eight days after the typhoon, survivors were still picking through the wreckage of the storm, hoping to salvage anything to help them rebuild their lives, as the United Nations more than doubled its estimate of homeless to nearly 2 million.

The relief effort was picking up steam, but the situation remained grim for survivors in many hard-hit communities.

Residents of Tanauan, a fishing town about 9 miles southeast of Tacloban, said they only started receiving substantial aid on Friday after being forced to survive on biscuits and dispose of dead bodies on their own for days.

On the remote island of Bantayan, residents said they hadn't received enough local aid and hadn't seen any relief from international agencies.

"We need help. Any country, we need help, we need your help," said Glenda Despesemento, a local relief coordinator in Bantayan. "Water, especially food, first aid, medicine, clothes – because some of us only have one (set of) clothes."

With the water system destroyed, residents of Bantayan are using a well – boiling the water before they drink it.

The U.N. said Thursday that the death toll from the monster typhoon had reached 4,200. The Philippine government disputes this figure, although its count has risen from around 2,360 to 3,633, with an official tally of 1,179 people missing. Around 12,000 people are injured.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said Thursday that she acknowledged that aid should have been quicker in coming and been more widely distributed.

"I think we are all extremely distressed that ... we have not managed to reach everyone," she told reporters in Manila.

Meanwhile, workers have been struggling to clean up a grim mess – burying bodies in hastily dug mass graves before even their mourning families can identify them.

Reuters contributed to this report.