TACLOBAN, Philippines — Even as the Philippines reopened two airstrips to help speed up the flow of aid Wednesday, parts of the typhoon-hit central region plunged deeper into distress, with gunfire cracking to ward off looters and survivors worrying that they would die before they received help.
“We survived the typhoon, but this will kill us,” Mary Jane Garcia, 44, said at the crowded airport in the city of Tacloban, where she and hundreds of others begged for a flight out on a military transport plane.
The ramped-up relief effort in the Philippines has brought aid to tens of thousands of victims of Typhoon Haiyan, but it has also exposed the vastness of this disaster – which spans several hundred miles of islands and includes areas yet to be accessed.
Nearly six days after the storm ripped through the Philippines’ central islands, bringing with it a tsunami-like wall of water, the extent of the devastation is clear. 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.
The disaster has reduced Tacloban, once a bustling provincial capital of 220,000, to a broken landscape of denuded hills and brown rot. Government buildings are abandoned and torn apart, and the stink of decay fills the air. With power out everywhere, miles of downed electrical wires have been repurposed as makeshift laundry lines, on which residents hang soaked remnants of clothing and bedding.
Asked where she would be willing to relocate if she could secure space on a plane ferrying emergency crews and supplies, Garcia did not hesitate: “Anywhere.”
Government officials say that more than 1,000 armed forces personnel have been deployed nationwide to restore order, and in Tacloban, police have imposed an evening curfew. But about 10 miles outside the city Tuesday, a mob ransacked a government building storing packages of rice, Rex Estoperez, a spokesman for the National Food Authority, said in a telephone interview.
The incident illustrated the problems with the hasty relief efforts, Estoperez said. The packages of rice were not piled securely, and when the mob entered the building, the rice bags collapsed, knocking over a wall and killing eight of the looters. The others in the mob walked out with whatever they could grab – thousands of sacks of rice, which they are trying to resell locally.
“We’re asking the people who took the rice to share it with the victims instead of selling it and doing business,” Estoperez said.
The Philippines has never conducted a relief operation of such magnitude, Jose Rene Almendras, a cabinet secretary, told reporters.
There are some signs of progress. In the town of Ormoc, on the same island as Tacloban, aid workers say that the police presence is heavy and that security is not a problem.
Two airports in the disaster zone reopened Wednesday, giving new options for transport planes, aviation officials said. Water-purification equipment was flown into Tacloban on Wednesday, and newly installed beacons and runway lights allowed for nighttime takeoffs and landings for the first time since the disaster.
In a statement Wednesday, President Obama encouraged Americans to visit whitehouse.gov/typhoon, which offers links to organizations working in the Philippines.