Anarchy reigns as survivors go scavenging

Ms Geraldine Rodriguez has been trying to get into Tacloban, the typhoon-devastated city that thousands of survivors without food, water and relief supplies are desperate to leave.

Her mother, who is in her 80s, and 17-year-old daughter are still there, said Ms Rodriguez, a reporter with the Manila Times who is worried about the situation in the provincial capital of Leyte.

"The place is descending into anarchy. The airport and area near it are relatively safe, but elsewhere, there's just anarchy," she told The Straits Times, confirming reports of widespread looting since Super Typhoon Haiyan tore into the Philippines last Friday.

Her daughter told her that looters broke into a neighbour's home and killed the neighbour for his relief supplies.

Ms Rodriguez will be flying to Tacloban today and hopes to take her mother and daughter to neighbouring Cebu. She will not be bringing any food or water because these scarce items might jeopardise her safety, she added.

More than 3,000 people swarmed Tacloban's airport when two Philippine Air Force C-130s landed just after dawn on Tuesday, according to news agency reports.

Mothers raised their babies high above their heads in the rain, hoping to gain favour and get a seat in one of the planes, Associated Press reported. But only a few hundred made it aboard.

The rest of Tacloban - and most of the two hardest-hit provinces of Leyte and Samar in central Philippines - passed another day without food, water and fresh clothing. They roamed streets still littered with countless corpses and plagued by looters.

Malls, garages, shops and homes, even those that were destroyed, have been stripped bare in the past few days.

People were seen hauling away TVs, refrigerators, Christmas trees and even a treadmill.

On Sunday, a group of unidentified men attacked a lorry loaded with relief goods meant for 25,000 affected families.

President Benigno Aquino has declared a state of national calamity to allow the central government to release emergency funds more quickly and impose price controls on staple goods.

However, Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez said that unless government assistance starts coming in, there was little anyone could do about the looting.

"You have to understand that the people are becoming violent because they're hungry, because they're thirsty, not because they want to harm anyone," he was quoted as saying.

At least 10,000 people may have died in probably the worst typhoon on record and rescue workers are already expecting the death toll to jump sharply once they reach areas that were cut off when Haiyan struck last week.

The official toll stood at 1,774 as of 6pm on Tuesday, though the authorities had admitted that figure might be "low". Rescuers have yet to reach remote parts of the coast, such as Guiuan, a town of 40,000 in eastern Samar province that was largely destroyed. The typhoon also levelled Basey, a seaside town, also in Samar. About 2,000 people remained missing there.

"I think what worries us the most is that there are so many areas where we have no information from, and when we have this silence, it usually means the damage is even worse," Mr Joseph Curry of the US Organisation Catholic Relief Services, was quoted as saying in a Reuters report.

Mr John Ging, director of operations at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters: "We're sadly expecting the worst as we get more and more access."

Meanwhile, the number of dead bodies in Tacloban, decomposing and stinking as they lay exposed on the ground, overwhelmed efforts to bury them.

At a small naval base, eight swollen corpses - including that of a baby - lay submerged in water. Officers had yet to move them because they had no body bags or electricity to preserve them. A local village chief appealed for backhoes to dig mass graves to bury the dead.

rdancel@sph.com.sg

 

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