Desperation in Tacloban, city at eye of storm, as food and water run short

The Philippines struggles to deal with the devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan as the bodies pile up and survivors search for food and water

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 5:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 10:02am

Already filled with despair at the soaring death toll from possibly the Philippines' worst recorded natural disaster, people in communities ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan are becoming increasingly desperate for food.

"People are walking like zombies looking for food," said Jenny Chu, a medical student in Leyte province. "It's like a movie."

On the outskirts of Tacloban, an eastern coastal city of 220,000 where tsunami-like waves destroyed many buildings, Edward Gualberto accidentally stepped on bodies as he raided the wreckage of a home.

Wearing nothing but a pair of red basketball trousers, the father-of-four and village councillor apologised for his shabby appearance and for stealing from the dead.

"I am a decent person. But if you have not eaten in three days, you do shameful things to survive," Gualberto said as he dug canned goods from the debris and flies swarmed over the bodies. "We have no food, we need water and other things to survive."

After half a day's work, he had filled a bag with an assortment of essentials including packs of spaghetti, cans of beer, detergent, soap, canned goods, biscuits and confectionery.

"This typhoon has stripped us of our dignity... but I still have my family and I am thankful for that."

Elsewhere in Tacloban, other survivors were employing more aggressive means as they took advantage of a security vacuum created when most of the city's police force failed to turn up for work after the typhoon.

Like Gualberto, many said they had not eaten since the typhoon and overwhelmed authorities admitted they were unable to get enough relief supplies into the city. Some broke into shops that had withstood the typhoon by hammering through glass windows and winching open steel barricades.

One desperate meat shop owner brandished a handgun in a failed bid to prevent one mob from entering his shop.

He was ignored and the shop was ransacked. The businessman stood waving his gun in the air and shouting. Nearby, pastry shop owner Emma Bermejo described the widespread looting as "anarchy".

"There is no security personnel. Relief goods are too slow to arrive. People are dirty, hungry and thirsty. A few more days and they will begin to kill each other," she said.

"This is shameful. We have been hit by a catastrophe and now our businesses are gone. Looted. I can understand if they take our food and water, they can have it. But TV sets? Washing machines?"

Meanwhile, confused men, women and children walked aimlessly along roads strewn with overturned cars and felled power lines, some gagging from the stench of rotting flesh.

A team of military cadaver collectors had been deployed, but the soldiers appeared overwhelmed. "There are six trucks going around the city picking up the dead, but it's not enough," said the driver of one of the vehicles as it wended its way through the streets.

"There are bodies everywhere. We do not have enough people to get to them."

Some survivors handed out small letters to passers-by and reporters asking them to contact their relatives to relay their fate.

Many had wounds on their faces and were limping, while all had stories of unimaginable horror. "The huge waves came again and again, flushing us out on the street and washing away our homes," Mirasol Saoyi, 27, said near the city's seaside sports stadium, which withstood the typhoon and where thousands of people have gathered.

"My husband tied us together, but still we got separated among the debris. I saw many people drowning, screaming and going under ... I haven't found my husband."

Tacloban airport suffered extensive damage after huge waves swept through the terminal, but the military were able to run some flights out of the stricken city.

"On the way to the airport we saw many bodies along the street," said Philippine-born Australian Mila Ward, 53, who was waiting at the Tacloban airport to catch a military flight back to Manila. She said she passed "well over 100" dead bodies along the way. "They were covered with just anything - tarpaulin, roofing sheets, cardboard."

Despite the limited military flights, many tourists were stranded.

"Seawater reached the second floor of the hotel," said Nancy Chang, who was on a business trip from China in Tacloban and walked three hours through mud and debris for a military-led evacuation at the airport.

"It's like the end of the world."

Additional reporting by Reuters, Associated Press



UN World Food Programme

The WFP said it has allocated US$2 million for the disaster response. Officials joined an assessment mission to survey damage in Leyte and Samar provinces. WFP said it would send more than 40 tonnes of high- energy biscuits and help the Philippine government with logistics and emergency communications systems. Donations can be made at


Unicef said it has staff in the Philippines to help and that 66 tonnes of emergency supplies were being sent from Copenhagen. An airlift set to arrive tomorrow will include water purification systems, storage equipment and sanitation supplies. Donations can be made to Unicef at

Red Cross

The American Red Cross said it had asked those looking to support relief efforts to send a cheque to their local American Red Cross chapter, made out to "Philippines Typhoons and Flood". Go to for local chapter information or to donate directly to the Philippine Red Cross.

Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services is accepting donations on its site, as it starts moving supplies and staff.

World Vision

World Vision said it was putting together resources to assist 1.2 million people, including food, hygiene kits, emergency shelter and protection. It asked for donations to be made at