Survivors flee Tacloban nightmare

Agence France-Presse

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Thousands of people jostle and beg for seats on scarce flights out of a demolished Tacloban City

EXODUS. Survivors of the super Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, board a C-130 military plane bound for Cebu at Tacloban airport, Leyte, on November 12, 2013. AFP/Ted Aljibe

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Thousands of people Wednesday, November 13, jostled and begged for seats on scarce flights out of a demolished Tacloban City, as anger at the slow pace of aid reaching the disaster zone turned deadly.

News emerged that 8 people were crushed to death Tuesday, November 12, when a huge crowd of survivors from Yolanda (Haiyan) – one of the strongest storms ever – rushed a government rice warehouse in Alangalang town, 17 kilometers (10 miles) from the devastated city of Tacloban.

“One wall of our warehouses collapsed and 8 people were crushed and killed instantly” in Tuesday’s (November 12) incident, said Rex Estoperez, spokesman for the National Food Authority.

Five days after Yolanda ripped apart entire coastal communities, the situation in Tacloban was becoming ever more dire with essential supplies low and increasingly desperate survivors jostling at the airport.

“Everyone is panicking,” Captain Emily Chang, a navy doctor, told Agence France-Presse.

“They say there is no food, no water. They want to get of here,” she added, saying doctors at the airport had run out of medicine, including antibiotics.

“We are examining everyone but there’s little we can do until more medical supplies arrive.”

The United Nations estimates 10,000 people may have died in Tacloban, the provincial capital of Leyte province where 5-meter (16-foot) waves flattened nearly everything in their path as they swept hundreds of meters across the low-lying land.

However, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said late Tuesday he believed that the toll was “too much.” adding that 2,500 “is the figure we’re working on.”

‘We may die from hunger’

At Tacloban airport, Agence France-Presse journalists witnessed exhausted and famished survivors pushing and shoving each other to get on one of the few flights out of the city, where festering bodies still littered many streets.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona admitted authorities were struggling to deal with the sheer numbers of the dead.

He told radio station DZMM they had “delayed” the retrieval of bodies “because we ran out of body bags.”

“We hope to speed it up when we get more body bags.”

“We have been here for 3 days and we still cannot get to fly out,” said a frail Angeline Conchas, who was waiting for space on a plane with her 7-year-old daughter Rogiel Ann.

Her family was trapped on the 2nd floor of their building as flood waters rose around them.

They made their way to safety by clinging on to an electricity cable to move to a higher structure where they stayed until the waters subsided.

“It is a good thing the electricity had already been cut off or we would have died,” Conchas said.

“We made it out, but now we may die from hunger.”

UN’s Amos: Much more needed

The UN estimates more than 11.3 million people have been affected with 673,000 made homeless, since Yolanda smashed into the nation’s central islands on Friday, November 8.

Overwhelmed and under-resourced rescue workers have been unable to provide food, water, medicines, shelter and other relief supplies to many survivors, and desperation has been building across the disaster zones.

On Tuesday UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos praised the international community’s reaction but said much more needed to be done in a disaster of such magnitude.

The international relief effort is building momentum with many countries pledging help. The United States and Britain are sending warships carrying thousands of sailors to the Philippines.

The aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which has 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft aboard, is heading from Hong Kong with 5 other US warships, while 3 amphibious vessels are also being deployed.

The carrier group is expected to reach the Philippines later this week, the Pentagon said, bringing much needed supplies. But for a shattered population already in dire straits, any delay is too long.

“People are desperate because they have nothing in Tacloban,” Marco Boasso of the International Organization for Migration said.

Hundreds of soldiers and police were patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints in Tacloban Wednesday to try to prevent pillaging.

Aquino: Lower death toll

President Aquino has declared a “state of national calamity,” allowing the government to impose price controls and quickly release emergency funds.

Speaking in a CNN interview, he said that local officials who feared 10,000 had died in Tacloban may have been “too close” to the disaster to give an accurate toll.

“Being in the center of the destruction… there is emotional trauma associated with that particular estimate,” he said.

“The figure I have right now is 2,000… so far about 2,000, 2,500 is the figure we’re working on,” Aquino added, though he admitted the toll still could rise.

The latest official government death toll stands at 1,798, although authorities have said they have not come close to accurately assessing the number of bodies lying amid the rubble or swept out to sea.

And international aid groups said they feared what was known now was just the tip of the iceberg.

“Obviously the situation in Tacloban is appalling but we are also very concerned about outlying islands,” Patrick Fuller, Red Cross spokesman in the Asia-Pacific, told AFP.

“There are a lot of them and I think it will be days, if not weeks, before we have a clear picture.”

Haiyan’s sustained winds, when they hit Samar island (where it first hit land), reached 315 km (195 miles) an hour, making it the strongest typhoon in the world this year and one of the most powerful ever recorded. –

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