Officials confirmed today that 55 Canadians thought to have been in the disaster zone when Typhoon Haiyan struck last week cannot be located by embassy staff in the Philippines capital of Manila.
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs said in a statement that as of 5 p.m., Canadian officials had heard back from 132 people confirming they were safe.
"This leaves 55 active cases on which we are following up at this time. We are working around the clock and liaising with local authorities to track down information regarding these Canadians," Ian Trites, a spokesman with the department, said in a statement. "We expect that as communications in the Philippines are restored, our ability to reach Canadians will improve."
Earlier, Defence Department officials said the most pressing problem currently is the inability to get to the disaster-struck villages.
Col. Stephen Kelsey of the Canadian Joint Operations Command told reporters a military plane that left Wednesday night for the area carried a backhoe and loader. The equipment is on its way to the city of Roxas to begin clearing roads.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander told host Evan Solomon of CBC News Network's Power & Politics that "Canada's going to the hardest hit areas where others haven't been able to go."
On Thursday night a Polaris airbus left for the Philippines from Canada carrying 70 people, including seven medical personnel. The rest on board will be deployed clearing roads.
As of Friday morning, Kelsey said, the military has 118 people on the ground in the Philippines, as well as 70 "in the air." More are coming, he said.
At 5 p.m. ET Friday a flight was scheduled to depart from Trenton carrying a reverse osmosis water purification unit, part of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).
Lt.-Col. Walter Taylor, DART commanding officer and commander of the joint task force, speaking by phone from the Philippines, said food and medical supplies are starting to build up and cannot be distributed quickly because of blocked roads.
He said that humanitarian groups have identified cholera and hepatitis A breakouts in some areas.
There has been no decision yet about whether Canada will send six helicopters to the region. Naval ships would take too long to arrive, officials said, but some inflatables will be sent to reach remote islands hit by the typhoon.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with the Filipino Association of Montreal and Suburbs on Friday afternoon, according to a news release issued by his office. Harper told members of the Filipino community that individuals and businesses in Canada have so far donated over $15 million to the relief effort.
Jason MacDonald, speaking for the Prime Minister's Office, said in an email that the government has yet to determine how much of the money came from individuals, because only their donations will be matched by government funds. Businesses and corporations are not eligible for matching funds, he said.