Typhoon Haiyan

Looting and gunfire show desperation in Leyte, island worst hit by typhoon

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 11:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 November, 2013, 2:56am

Looters overran a rice warehouse on the island worst hit by the Philippine typhoon, setting off a wall collapse that killed eight people and then carting off thousands of sacks of the grain. And members of the security forces exchanged gunfire with an armed gang yesterday.

The incidents in or close to the city at the centre of international relief efforts add to concerns about the slow pace of aid distribution in the disaster zone and that parts of the area are descending into chaos.

There has been looting for the last three days, but the situation has stabilised

Five long days after the typhoon wasted the eastern seaboard of the Philippines, the cogs of what promises to be a massive international aid effort are beginning to turn, but not quickly enough for the some 600,000 people displaced, many of them homeless, hungry and thirsty.

"There's a bit of a logjam to be absolutely honest getting stuff in here," said the UN's Sebastian Rhodes Stampa against the roar of a C-130 military transport plane landing behind him at the airport in Tacloban.

"It's almost all in country - either in Manila or in Cebu, but it's not here. 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. "The reason for that essentially is that there are no trucks, the roads are all closed."

Planes, ships and trucks were all on their way to the region, loaded with generators, water purifying kits and emergency lights - vital equipment needed to sustain a major relief mission. Airports were reopening in the region, and the US military said it was installing equipment to allow the damaged Tacloban airport to operate all the time.

Tacloban's mayor, Alfred Romualdez, urged residents to flee the city because local authorities were having trouble providing food and water and maintaining order, The New York Times reported. He said the city was in desperate need of trucks to distribute relief shipments that were accumulating at the city's airport as well as equipment to pull decaying corpses from the rubble.

Eight people were crushed to death when the mob stormed a rice warehouse in Alangalang, 24 kilometres from Tacloban, on Tuesday and carried off thousands of sacks of grain, according to National Food Authority spokesman Rex Estoperez.

Yesterday, gunfire broke out close to the city's San Juanico bridge between security forces and armed men, but the circumstances were unclear, according to footage on local TV.

Since the storm, people 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. There have been reports of armed gangs of robbers operating in a systematic manner, but they have not been confirmed.

An 8 pm to 5 am curfew was in place across the region. Despite incidents, police said the situation was improving.

"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 stabilised."

The congressman for Eastern Samar province, a coastal region that bore the full force of the storm, said the food situation there was "horrible".

"Some communities disappeared, entire villages were wiped out. They were shouting 'food, food, food!' when they saw me," Ben Evardone told a local television station.