"Toronto, you say. The place with the funny mayor?" Oh yes, even in the disaster of the Philippines, volunteers packing food into bags for the hungry and homeless want to know more about Rob Ford. Didn't expect that.

We were at a Red Cross facility in Cebu, from where much of the humanitarian operation is now being directed. In those bags: five kilograms of rice, five packages of noodles, five cans of sardines and a big bottle of water. Any family struck by the storm can expect that — though it may take days more for aid to each them.

The challenge is two-fold: the storm's magnitude and the geography of the country. Typhoon Haiyan was enormous and in many communities the winds knocked down buildings, while the storm surge carried away entire villages. And this is a nation of islands, large and small.

Airport towers are smashed, runways covered in debris. Docks for ferries have been washed away and roads are still tricky. In short, helicopter is the primary way to get aid into the hands of people and there just aren't enough of the aircraft.

Philippines Typhoon Haiyan

Homes such as these near Roxa were flattened by the storm's sustained winds of 250 km/h. (CBC/David Common)

We flew in a small plane to Roxas, where Canada's DART team is just getting started. The flight here demonstrated how widespread the damage is, but also how complex it is to get help to those who need it.

The entire world has now heard of Tacloban, which is getting the most attention for its death toll and massive destruction. It deserves the coverage, but so do other places. As I write this, I'm driving to Pilar along roads where power lines and downed palm trees make driving complicated. Wooden homes look like a giant stepped on them.

The first visit for the Canadian military medical team is to Pilar — at an evacuation centre. Water treatment is gone and so, not unexpectedly, gastro illnesses have spread. In disasters, something as simple as that can kill. It's why those Red Cross aid packages with the noodles also contain ciprofloxacin, a common antibiotic.

I have seen terrible natural disasters — the Haiti earthquake and the Japanese tsunami. The Philippines is better equipped certainly than Haiti to address the immediate needs. But while it's not as wealthy as Japan, there is something here that reminds me of Japan. The worst damage is along the coastlines — in villages reliant on the sea for fishing, virtually the only local economy.

But the boats are gone — and along with them, livelihoods.

And nobody in Pilar is talking about Rob Ford. Their problems are far greater: survival first, and then...what to do next.