'We are not looting. We are just looking for something to eat'

'We are not looting. We are just looking for something to eat'

PHILIPPINES - For Samuel Bacalla, 35, life has been reduced to scavenging for food, carving out whatever semblance of normality he can from the disjointedness, and wondering whether life could get any worse.

"I feel less of a man," the fishmonger told The Straits Times at his makeshift 2m by 2m shelter - a lean-to against a wall, made of a piece of cloth and narrow pieces of wood - in an evacuation centre at Tacloban's city hall complex.

The day for him starts at 5am while his wife and children, a five-month-old boy and a three- year-old girl, are still asleep on a cement floor with a thin blanket for bedding.

This is when he walks towards a relief tent, also within the city hall complex, and queues to have his cellphone - an old one given to him by a volunteer - recharged. His own phone was lost during the scramble to safety.

Super Typhoon Haiyan levelled Bacalla's house and most of the rest of Tacloban city in Leyte province on November 8.

Like most survivors, he and his family survived by climbing to the roof of his house before a 7m-high storm surge created by Haiyan's strong winds swept in.

After charging his phone, at around 7am, Bacalla will then venture into parts of the city where the destruction is most severe - because police will not let them go into structures that are still standing - and, for hours, dig among the rubble and decomposing heap for whatever food items he can find.

He favours places that used to be markets or groceries. Most of the time, he finds nothing but debris. However, there are occasions when he stumbles on a "lucky find" - a can of sardines or a pack of instant noodles, for instance.

Bacalla took offence at the word "looting", when this reporter suggested that this was what he was doing.

"We're not looting," he said. "We're just looking for something to eat."

He says that since November 8, he has received just one relief pack of rice, canned food and water.

He was told by city officials when he asked for more help to look for his village chief, but the man had gone missing.

While he is out looking for food, his wife Marites, 31, watches over their young children and guards what meagre belongings they have left.

Sometimes, she will venture out to queue for water, which can take half a day.

For her and the children, the day is one of boredom and tedium.

After scavenging, sometimes for as long as four hours, Bacalla will head back to the evacuation centre. In between idle chat and endless recollections of what happened on November 8 with other evacuees, he will attend to human needs that for most people are normal but for evacuees like him have become an inconvenience.

Relieving himself entails taking a plastic bag to a grassy spot, delivering waste into that bag and throwing that bag into a cesspool.

Taking a shower and doing laundry involve taking trips to a nearby artesian well with a pail.

To cook his family's meals, he chops wood and lights a bonfire. At night, they are exposed to the elements, and mosquitoes feast on their flesh.

Bacalla says the worst part is the certainty that life for him is not about to get better soon.

"We need a house, but where will I get the wood, nails and cement to build one?" he asked. "I don't have any money. I don't have anything."

With the authorities saying it could take at least one year to give Tacloban a semblance of normalcy, he is terrified by the vigil that awaits him and his family.

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