Looting, gun-fire break out in typhoon-hit city

A Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules is loaded with relief supplies this morning at Whenuapai before departing for Manila.
RNZAF
A Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules is loaded with relief supplies this morning at Whenuapai before departing for Manila.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules loaded with relief supplies is on its way to typhoon-hit regions of the Philippines.

It departed this morning for Whenuapai, and is now heading for Manila. The aircraft will remain in the country for four or five days.

Five days after Haiyan thrashed the eastern seaboard of the Philippines, survivors are panicked over water, food, and medicinal shortages. Parts of the disaster zone are descending into chaos fuelled by the slow pace of aid distribution.

The RNZAF Hercules is expected to stay in Manila to help with aid operations.
RNZAF
The RNZAF Hercules is expected to stay in Manila to help with aid operations.

Bloated corpses of people, pigs and dogs line the main streets. Towns are short on body bags. Roads are blocked. Fuel is almost impossible to find, even for aid workers with vehicles that could transport vital supplies.]

Walls and signs have been scrawled with pleas: "Help us".

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.

AID NEEDED: Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan stand beside a sign asking for help in the worst-hit city of Tacloban.
Getty Images
AID NEEDED: Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan stand beside a sign asking for help in the worst-hit city of Tacloban.

A New Zealand $2 million aid package was announced earlier this week by Prime Minister John Key. And a $2.3 million initiative with the Philippines Red Cross to bolster disaster relief supplies for future events, will be launched.

Key said the Philippines, like New Zealand, is ''extremely vulnerable to natural disaster.''

The World Health Organisation said teams from Belgium, Japan, Israel and Norway had arrived in the Philippines to set up field hospitals.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos toured Tacloban on Wednesday and told reporters afterward that although a significant amount of material was brought in Wednesday, much more remains to be done. Her office has released $25 million in emergency relief funds, as countries around the globe are pledging to send millions in assistance.

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington will arrive later this week, carrying about 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft. It has been joined by four other U.S. Navy ships.

The United States, a close ally and former colonial ruler of the Philippines, has also provided eight C-130 cargo planes for delivering aid, said Cabinet Secretary Almendras.

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

"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 24-7.

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.

Residents are desperate to escape the country following reports and rumors of looting and rape.

"It's the criminals who escaped from the prison. They're raping the women," said Violet Duzar, 57, who had been waiting at the airport with eight family members including children since Sunday.

Tacloban city administrator Lim said that less than ten prisoners escaped from jail after the typhoon struck.

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

Today, 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 unconfirmed reports of armed gangs of robbers operating in a systematic manner.

An 8pm to 5am 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 death toll rose to 2344, according a national tally kept by the disaster agency. That figure is expected to rise, perhaps significantly, when accurate information is collected from the entirety of the disaster zone, which spreads over a wide swath of the eastern and central Philippines but appears to be concentrated on two main islands, Leyte and Samar.

At the Tacloban airport, makeshift clinics have been set up and thousands of people were waiting for a flight out. A doctor said supplies of antibiotics and anesthetics arrived Tuesday for the first time.

"Until then, patients had to endure the pain," said Dr Victoriano Sambale.

Relief officials said comparing the pace of this operation to those in past disasters was largely pointless because each posed unique challenges.

-Fairfax NZ, with agencies

AP