Struggling to survive - one day at a time

Struggling to survive - one day at a time

Talcoband, still a vibrant urban centre of about 220,000 people only early last week, is now a city on the blink.

Hungry, thirsty and often angry residents stand in long queues to get their hands on food, water and other items.

The smell of death is thick in the air. A week after the worst storm to hit the Philippines - Super Typhoon Haiyan - levelled this city, there are corpses still in body bags and many more lying among the rubble. Mass burials have only just begun.

Neighbourhoods are in lockdown because looters are trawling the streets despite the presence of soldiers and police in some places. There have been horrific stories of gangs pillaging homes, taking not only valuable supplies but also raping the women.

The residents of San Jose district have been particularly worried since an unknown number of inmates escaped from a prison that held about 600.

"Someone should make an example of these people (looters)," Mr Rodrigo Cabanero, a plane mechanic, told The Straits Times yesterday, hinting that they ought to be shot. He came back to Tacloban to try to get his wife and daughter out of the city.

Mr Larry Abellar, a school bus driver, said looters who took more than food, water and other basic necessities brought shame to the city.

A nightly curfew has helped to restore a semblance of order. But the biggest challenge for the people is how to survive, one day at a time.

There is not enough food, water and proper shelter. Officials have said that electric power will not be restored for weeks, at least. The arrival on Thursday of a US aircraft carrier - the USS George Washington - and much-needed equipment and supplies offered hope.

The United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) said 49,000 people in and around the city have received food packs containing rice and canned food, enough to feed a family for a few days, Associated Press said yesterday.

Nearly 10 tonnes of high-energy biscuits arrived on Wednesday, with another 25 tonnes to be sent to the city on Thursday, the UNWFP said.

Aid groups trying to reach typhoon survivors have found their progress slowed by hurdles such as a shortage of vehicles, impassable roads and other logistical blocks. Burying the dead has been almost impossible because the local authorities just cannot cope.

"There would be a request from one community to collect five or 10 bodies and when we get there, there are 40," city mayor Alfred Romualdez told reporters. "It's scary."

An elderly man told The Straits Times that local authorities have told people living by the roadside to leave because health officials will start spraying disinfectant along the highway from the airport next week.

"We don't expect things to get better soon," said Mr Edgar Masinloc.

rdancel@sph.com.sg


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