A woman holding her rosary waits to get on a military flight out of town after super typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city, central Philippines November 13, 2013. The government has been overwhelmed by the force of the typhoon, which decimated large swathes of Leyte province where local officials have said they feared 10,000 people died, many drowning in a tsunami-like surge of seawater. REUTERS/Edgar Su Edgar Su/Reuters
Thousands stormed a rice warehouse on a Philippine island devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, authorities said Wednesday, highlighting the urgent need to get water, food and medical supplies into an increasingly desperate region.
Five days after one of the strongest tropical storms on record levelled tens of thousands of houses in the central Philippines, relief operations were only starting to pick up pace, with two more airports in the region reopening, allowing for more aid flights.
But minimal food and water was reaching people in the devastated city of Tacloban, on Leyte island, which bore the brunt of the storm, and outlying regions due to a lack of trucks and blocked roads.
"There's a bit of a logjam, to be absolutely honest, getting stuff in here," said Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
"You've had quite a lot of security coming in over the last couple of days, less so other things. So then it gets here and then we're going to have a real challenge with logistics in terms of getting things out of here, into town, out of town, into the other areas," he said from the airport in Tacloban.
"The reason for that essentially is that there are no trucks, the roads are all closed."
In the first reported deaths as a result of looting, eight people were crushed to death Tuesday when a wall collapsed as they and thousands of others stormed a rice warehouse on Leyte Island, said National Food Authority spokesman Rex Estoperez.
The looters in Alangalang municipality carted away up to 100,000 sacks of rice, he said.
CBC reporter Andrew Lee said from Cebu City that as he drove north on the island of Cebu, he saw people on the side of the road begging for food and water.
Some people in vehicles threw out water bottles and noodle packages, Lee said. "Kids'd be scrambling all over the street, almost getting hit by cars, just trying to get some food."
Lee said some people he talked to had received help five days ago, but nothing since then. "Which really amazed them because they know that people can get to them, and they're very frustrated by this."
CBC's Chris Brown said from the municipality of Medellin, also on Cebu island, that anger and frustration were rising as people waited for rice. The only good news from the area was that the death toll appeared to be low despite heavy property damage.
Reports of armed gangs
Since the storm, people in damaged areas have broken into homes, malls and garages, where they have stripped the shelves of food, water and other goods. Authorities have struggled to stop the looting.
On Wednesday, gunfire broke out in Tacloban between security forces and armed men, but the circumstances were unclear, according to footage on local TV.
Police were working to keep order across the ravaged wasteland. An 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew was in place.
"We have restored order," said Carmelo Espina Valmoria, director of the Philippine National Police special action force. "There has been looting for the last three days, [but] the situation has stabilized."
U.S. Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy said that later Wednesday his troops would install equipment at Tacloban airport to allow planes to land at night. Tacloban, a city of 220,000, was almost completely destroyed in Friday's typhoon and has become the main relief hub.
"You are not just going to see Marines and a few planes and some helicopters," Kennedy said. "You will see the entire Pacific Command respond to this crisis."
Canada's DART awaits specifics
Canada's military Disaster Assistance Response Team is in Hawaii, waiting for specifics on how and where it can help.
A Canadian reconnaissance team has been in the Philippines since Tuesday discussing with local officials on how best to provide aid.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson says the DART will be available "at a moment's notice" once the Canadian advance team has provided its assessment.
The advance team includes 17 Canadian Forces personnel and about a dozen civilians, mainly from Foreign Affairs.
A Canadian Forces C-17 left C-F-B Trenton for Hawaii on Monday carrying 43 members of the DART, along with their equipment.
Nicholson said the equipment includes ambulances, a forklift, a communications truck, as well as a fully supplied medical team.
A Norwegian ship carrying supplies left from Manila, while an Australian air force transport plane took off from Canberra carrying a medical team. British and American navy vessels are also en route to the region.
At the damaged airport in Tacloban, makeshift clinics have been set up and thousands of people were looking for a flight out. A doctor here said supplies of antibiotics and anesthetics arrived Tuesday for the first time.
"Until then, patients had to endure the pain," said Dr. Victoriano Sambale.
At least 580,000 people have been displaced by the disaster. In some places, tsunami-like storm surges swept up to one kilometre inland, causing more destruction and loss of life. Most of the death and destruction appears concentrated on the islands of Samar and Leyte.
The damaged infrastructure and bad communications links made a conclusive death toll difficult to estimate.
The official toll from a national disaster agency rose to 2,275 on Wednesday. President Benigno Aquino III told CNN in a televised interview that the toll could be closer to 2,000 or 2,500, lower than an earlier estimate from two officials on the ground who said they feared as many as 10,000 might be dead.
"There is a huge amount that we need to do. We have not been able to get into the remote communities," UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said in Manila, launching an appeal for $301 million to help the more than 11 million people estimated to be affected by the storm.
"Even in Tacloban, because of the debris and the difficulties with logistics and so on, we have not been able to get in the level of supply that we would want to. We are going to do as much as we can to bring in more," she said. Her office said she planned to visit the city.
Relief officials said comparing the pace of this operation to those in past disasters was difficult.
In Indonesia's Aceh, the worst-hit region by the 2004 tsunami, relief hubs were easier to set up than in Tacloban. The main airport there was functioning 24 hours a day within a couple of days of the disaster. While devastation in much of the city of Banda Aceh was total, large inland parts of the city were undamaged, providing a base for aid operations and temporary accommodation for the homeless.
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