Survivors of the super typhoon that has devastated several islands in the Philippines have begun scavenging for food and looting shops in order to stay alive, witnesses say.
Shopping centers and grocery stores in hard-hit Tacloban have reportedly been stripped of goods as rescuers’ efforts to deliver food and water are hampered by severed roads and communications.
“Tacloban is totally destroyed. Some people are losing their minds from hunger or from losing their families,” high school teacher Andrew Pomeda, 36, said as he warned of the increasing desperation of survivors.
“People are becoming violent. They are looting business establishments, the malls, just to find food, rice and milk. I am afraid that in one week, people will be killing from hunger.”
A boy who was wounded by flying debris due to Super Typhoon Haiyan stays at the ruins of his family’s house in Tacloban city
Witnesses described how survivors are forming long queues at aid stations, waiting desperately for handouts of rice and water. Some sit and stare, covering their faces with rags to keep out the smell of the dead.
One woman, eight months pregnant, described through tears how her 11 family members vanished in the storm, including two daughters.
“I can’t think right now. I am overwhelmed,” she said.
During a visit to Tacloban, President Benigno Aquino acknowledged that looting had emerged as a major concern after only 20 out of 390 of the city’s police officers turned up for work following the typhoon.
“So we will send about 300 police and soldiers to take their place and bring back peace and order,” he said.
Looters take supplies from a shop which has had the gate broken open
“Tonight, an armoured vehicle will arrive and our armed forces will display the strength of the state to put a stop to this looting.”
Aid agencies have warned that many of the 480,000 people whose homes have been destroyed by the bludgeoning force of the cyclone face a desperate battle to survive.
“Everything is gone. Our house is like a skeleton and we are running out of food and water. We are looking for food everywhere,” said Jenny Chu, a medical student in Leyte.
“Even the delivery vans were looted. People are walking like zombies looking for food. It’s like a movie.”
Nancy Chang, who was in Tacloblan City on a business trip from China and walked three hours through mud and debris for a military-led evacuation, said: “It’s like the end of the world.”
Two men drag a corpse towards rescuers
Relief efforts are being hampered by the complete destruction of the airport, where seawaters shattered the glass of the airport tower, levelled the terminal and overturned vehicles.
Military aircraft and helicopters, which are in limited supply in the Philippines, are the only way in and out of the city.
Amid the destruction, extraordinary stories of survival are starting to emerge.
Lieutenant Colonel Fermin Carangan of the Philippine Air Force said he and 41 officers were sheltering in their airport office when “suddenly the sea water and the waves destroyed the walls and I saw my men being swept by waters one by one”.
He was swept away from the building and clung to a coconut tree with a seven-year-old boy.
Hundreds of people queue for food at a Tacloban airport aid center
“In the next five hours we were in the sea buffeted by wind and strong rain. I kept on talking to the boy and giving him a pep talk because the boy was telling me he was tired and he wanted to sleep.”
He finally saw land and swam with the boy to a beach strewn with dead bodies.
He said: “I think the boy saved my life because I found strength so that he can survive.”
The World Food Programme said it was airlifting 40 tonnes of high-energy biscuits, enough to feed 120,000 people for a day, as well as emergency supplies and telecommunications equipment.
Aid agencies said relief efforts in the Philippines are stretched thin after a 7.2 magnitude quake in central Bohol province last month and another refugee crisis due to conflict in southern Zamboanga province.
The US embassy in Manila has pledged $100,000 towards relief supplies and the Australian government gave A$390,500 but some expressed anger at the slow pace of rescue efforts.