Eight banks, six petrol stations and one restaurant have reopened for business in the battered city of Tacloban, which was completely levelled by Super Typhoon Haiyan two weeks ago.
Large screens were being put up in Tacloban stadium, the city hall and a park to broadcast Filipino boxing star Manny Pacquiao's comeback fight in Macau tonight.
All these are signs that life in Tacloban is going back to normal, Major-General Jet B. Verlarmino told The Sunday Times.
Maj-Gen Verlarmino is the Task Force Commander of the Philippine Army who has been overseeing the relief efforts in Tacloban since Nov 8.
Speaking to The Sunday Times from Task Force Yolanda Command Centre, he said: "We are moving into the initial stages of normalcy. People have shown their intentions to open their shops for business. We are entering the rehabilitation phase where people will rebuild their houses.
"We have NGOs bringing in construction materials. People are no longer telling us we have no food, we are hungry."
While he sounded optimistic, the scenes that greeted this reporter when she travelled from Ormoc city to Tacloban on Saturday told a different story.
Along the road, children were holding up cardboard signs with messages like: "We are hungry, help pls". Bodies were still being retrieved from wrecks. Rows of destroyed houses lined the roads. And many parts were still without electricity and water.
"We need to restore the power. We had restored the water but people 'hijacked' it. They poked holes into the pipes and now we have to shut off the tap during certain times," said Maj-Gen Verlarmino, who was unable to estimate how long it would take to rebuild the city. When Haiyan struck, he took refuge on the roof of his office near the airport for two hours.
"Thankfully, I survived, but when I made it to the Command Centre, only 20-over police officers showed up. I was expecting over 200 officers, but they were not there because their houses were also destroyed."
Super Typhoon Haiyan smashed into the Philippines on the morning of Nov 8. It has killed more than 5,200 people and left millions homeless. Tacloban was one of the most devastated cities, where almost 2,000 people died.
Maj-Gen Verlarmino said what is needed now is not food, but tents, temporary shelters, mats and hygiene kits.
United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, after visiting the disaster zones, also sounded a warning on Saturday, saying the world was not responding fast enough even as a UN appeal for funds was raised from US$301 million (S$377 million) to US$348 million.
Mr Jesper Holmer Lund, chief of the emergency services branch of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told The Sunday Times that only 30 per cent of the US$301 million appealed for by the UN has been raised.
The World Bank has increased to almost US$1 billion its aid to support relief and reconstruction.
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