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John Byrne, Director General Disaster Management of the Canadian Red Cross, talks to Canadian Red Cross aid workers prior to their deployment to the Philippines in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 13, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
John Byrne, Director General Disaster Management of the Canadian Red Cross, talks to Canadian Red Cross aid workers prior to their deployment to the Philippines in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 13, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadian relief crews work to set up field hospital, restore services Add to ...

The typhoon-ravaged city of Iloilo is now the home base of Canadian medical teams and engineers in the Philippines, with more disaster response help on the way.

The Canadian crews were expected to begin arriving on Wednesday evening in Iloilo, one of the major cities along the path of Typhoon Haiyan, although not among the most heavily damaged areas. The group includes about 70 Foreign Affairs staff and soldiers who were already in or near the Philippines. About 40 more soldiers were dispatched from Ontario on Wednesday night as part of the Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART. They are bringing engineering equipment.

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A major road was destroyed in Iloilo, leaving many remote communities on the island of Panay in need of help, said Leslie Gatan, the Philippine ambassador to Canada.

“I think there will be a lot of work for the Canadian team there,” Mr. Gatan told The Globe and Mail, praising Canada for its help. “I’m really struck with extreme appreciation of the extraordinary generosity from Canada, from the government and from the ordinary people.”

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson announced the second wave of DART crews was en route on Wednesday, after Iloilo was selected. “This is a devastated area, there’s huge loss of life … it was deemed this would be an appropriate place for Canada to make a contribution,” Mr. Nicholson said.

In addition to the teams sent overseas, Canada has pledged $5-million in aid, and the government has promised to match donations made this month by Canadians to registered charities’ typhoon relief efforts. There’s been “considerable uptake” from donors already, Mr. Nicholson said.

Canada is also tweaking its immigration rules in the typhoon’s aftermath. The department of Citizenship and Immigration announced on Wednesday it would consider giving priority to applications – it is unclear what kind – from people “significantly and personally” affected by the disaster.

“We want to accommodate those who are from the affected areas who have family in Canada, who have an application outstanding to come to Canada. We want to expedite that,” Immigration Minister Chris Alexander told CTV. Filipinos already in Canada could be allowed to extend their stays.

Canada has made similar fast-tracking accommodations in the past – after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, for instance, when admissions roughly tripled from the year before. But the Philippines had not asked for it.

“This comes as a pleasant surprise for us. I will be happy to report that to Manila,” Mr. Gatan said on Wednesday, adding that bringing more Filipinos to Canada could spur rebuilding efforts. “Once they land here [in Canada], they can help their families back home reconstruct their destroyed properties, and that’s also a very good way of assisting families or people in the devastated areas.”

Philippine authorities have been directing international help to the areas that need it, and Mr. Gatan suspects they asked Canada to head to Iloilo. “It’s good that Canada has focused also on Iloilo province. There’s one big road there that’s not passable. So, in that case, relief and assistance to people in the interior of the province could be difficult to be transported,” he said.

Mr. Nicholson met on Wednesday with Canadian Red Cross volunteers who are heading to the Philippines to set up a 70-bed field hospital that can treat up to 300 outpatients a day. The 12-person team includes Danielle Perreault, a physician from Montreal and self-described “bush doctor” who has worked in remote northern Canadian communities and in Haiti after the earthquake. Having a field hospital makes a doctor’s work much easier in disaster zones, she said.

“That means there’ll be a pharmacy, there’ll be a lab, there will be x-ray, there will be the possibility to do small surgeries,” she said, adding that the task is still daunting. “For me, we’re going to do it step-by-step. When I read today we’ll be able to deal with 300 patients a day, I took a big breath in. So we’ll see.”

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