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Chaos still reigns amid the typhoon ruins

Security forces fight to keep order as desperation grows

Chaos still reigns amid the typhoon ruins

A child cries amid the wreckage left by Typhoon Haiyan in Daanbantayan town in northern Cebu province (picture by Joe Torres)

Joe Torres, Daanbantayan, and Ronaldo Reyes, Tacloban

November 14, 2013

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Teofisto Suan sits alone on a muddy roadside in Daanbantayan in northern Cebu province and says that lack of food and water will probably kill him, so he won’t have to take his own life.

Four days after Typhoon Haiyan – locally known as Yolanda – made landfall and left devastation in its wake, the farmer and father of four said he had reached breaking point.

“I don’t know what to do. My wife is sick and my four young children are hungry.”

Media reports have speculated that the typhoon might have claimed the lives of up to 10,000 people and displaced as many as eight million others in Leyte province alone, after a three-storey wall of water hit the town of Tacloban.

Despite casualty estimates, the government says the death toll stands at 2,275 dead, 3,665 injured and 80 missing as of Wednesday.

President Benigno Aquino told reporters earlier this week that government projections of deaths were likely to be no more than 2,500. But in the face of such appalling human tragedy, this debate over the figures seems secondary at best.

Aid agencies, relief groups and journalists scrambled to set up command posts in Tacloban, but in Daanbantayan there was little evidence of relief operations in the days following the typhoon.

Some 29,000 families in Daanbantayan were affected by the typhoon that felled trees and power lines and destroyed 95 percent of the town’s buildings and homes. At least 85 people were reportedly killed.

“Our leaders seem to have forgotten us,” Suan says, adding that he and fellow residents had yet to hear from government officials. A private foundation distributed small amounts of food and water, but not enough to meet the growing need.

The situation in Tacloban was not much better, despite the more active presence of relief workers.

Desperate with hunger and thirst, survivors have ransacked shops, aid depots and malls while others have scoured damaged homes for anything edible.

Others have looted whatever goods they could find.

Shop owner Hector Hui could only watch as men, women and children shattered his store windows in Tacloban.

“I can understand if those people took away rice and canned goods for survival, but stealing items like mobile phones, refrigerators and computers is too much,” said Hui, whose family had already fled the city.

Security personnel in Tacloban have been largely helpless in stopping the growing crowds of looters.

Residents of the ravaged city say the distribution of relief goods has been disorganized – aggravating an already chaotic situation made worse by the fact that electricity has been out in the provincial capital since last week.

The most common emotion expressed by survivors is fear.

Regeno Pacis and his family have been waiting for a ride on a military transport train to escape the city, along with thousands of other survivors.

“There is news circulating that prisoners, rebel groups and criminals are all over the city hunting for food,” Pacis said.
He added that there were concerns that when the stores in Tacloban had been looted for all they contained, crowds would start targeting other areas. As well, fears have emerged on nearby Samar island, which was badly hit by the typhoon, over Communist rebel activity. The island has long been known as a hub for insurgents.

“There is no more safety, no more future here,” said Pacis, adding that his neighbors hide at night for fear of attack and that other residents have organized watch groups to guard the remains of their neighborhoods.

“This is a ghost town. The only option now is to leave the city and maybe return after a year or two,” said Ando Solar, another Tacloban resident who has been trying to evacuate his family to Manila.

“It’s difficult to get to sleep during the evening when you hear the sound of people smashing and knocking down the doors of nearby houses, trying to salvage anything,” he added.

Father Amadeo Alvero, a parish priest in Tacloban, echoed these fears, saying the situation is “so overwhelming. There is no more government here. And I can only imagine what will happen next.”

The government has placed Tacloban under a state of emergency and a thousand police officers have deployed in the area in an attempt to establish order.

At least 32 countries as well as international organizations have pledged relief assistance in cash or in kind, amounting to nearly US$80 million. The United States military has also deployed 150 personnel to help in search and rescue operations.

Alfred Romualdez, mayor of Tacloban, has urged residents to remain calm.

“The worst is over. We survived. It’s time now for unity. Let’s rebuild Tacloban in honor of our families and loved ones who died during the disaster,” the mayor said on Wednesday.

But survivors say they remain in limbo and their suffering is only growing worse.

Maricel Bontia, a village leader in Bagay in Daanbantayan town, said survivors in Cebu province don’t know where to turn.

“We don’t have any food to eat, there is no shelter, there is nothing. Where will we start?” 

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