OTTAWA – The Canadian military’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, was bound for the Philippine city of Iloilo on Wednesday as the death toll from typhoon Haiyan continued to rise.
The military was also helping with the deployment of a separate 12-member Canadian Red Cross field hospital.
“The DART team is now on the way to Iloilo, which is one of the affected areas that has so far been less served by some of the humanitarian efforts,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said at the Philippines embassy after signing a book of condolences.
Philippine authorities say Iloilo, one of two major cities on the island of Panay, was in the direct path of typhoon Haiyan and suffered 162 deaths and the destruction of 68,543 houses as a result.
In all, more than 530,000 people have been affected in the Iloilo region by the typhoon. The overall death toll in the Philippines rose to more than 2,300 lives lost across the country.
A small group of Canadian planners arrived in the Philippine capital of Manila on Tuesday to meet with authorities and determine where Canada’s resources could be of the most use.
They preceded the DART, some 43 members of which left Canada earlier this week on board a C-17 transport plane that stopped over in Hawaii to await the details of its destination.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said a second C-17 with aid, supplies and equipment also left Wednesday.
“They will be able to assist governmental and non-governmental agencies in restoring essential services in the area,” Nicholson said.
The minister said Iloilo was selected after consultations in Manila involving Canada’s advance planning team.
“This is a devastated area. There is huge loss of life.”
Nicholson wouldn’t estimate how long the Canadian military would be deployed in the region.
“We’ll do whatever it takes,” he said. “We’ll play it by ear but we’ll watch it very carefully.”
Nicholson said the military was also working with the Canadian Red Cross to deploy a 12-person medical team and field hospital. The unit is a self-contained, general outpatient clinic that can provide basic health and surgical care to up to 300 people a day.
It includes 74 inpatient beds for ongoing observation and care.
Dr. Danielle Perreault, a Montreal general practitioner who was in Haiti to help out following the massive 2010 earthquake, was preparing to leave Wednesday with the Red Cross volunteer team.
The scale that awaits her in the Philippines is “out of proportion” with anything she has ever experienced before, she said.
Perreault said she took a deep breath when she realized she would be treating 300 patients a day as part of a team, But noted that the time she’s spent working in Canada’s remote north with aboriginal people will serve her well.
“When I say what type of doctor I am, I’m a bush doctor. I can do delivery, I can do some operations. I can intubate. I’m not a super-powered doctor … but I go, A, B, C, D,” she said.
Perreault predicted violence on the ground because she expects to see “very upset people” in the next two weeks.
“The question of food and water is incredibly stressful for the people,” said Perreault, who will be going on a one-month mission. “It’s going to bring a lot, a lot of anxiety among people and a lot of violence.”
Canada’s DART can provide basic medical assistance, engineering support and clean water from its sophisticated purification systems.
The Canadian government has also pledged $5 million for the stricken country.
With files from The Associated Press