TACLOBAN CITY – Tormented survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda that is feared to have killed thousands rummaged for food through debris scattered with corpses, while frenzied mobs looted aid convoys.
Two days after one of the most powerful storms ever recorded flattened communities across a large part of the country last Nov. 8, desperate survival tactics created fresh horrors.
On the outskirts of Tacloban, a coastal eastern 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 shorts, the father of four and barangay councilor apologized 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 told AFP 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 candies.
“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.
Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon said looters ransacked one of his organization’s trucks as it was crossing a bridge in Tanuan, Leyte, last Nov. 10.
“These are mobsters operating out of there,” said Gordon.
According to a report by the Sun Star, the truck carried enough food and water for 25,000 families.
Gordon tried to call local police forces for aid, but no one took his calls.
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 through 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 just silently stood by, waving his gun in the air and shouting. When he realized he had lost the fight, he cursed them and walked away.
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, told AFP near the city’s seaside sports stadium that withstood the typhoon and where thousands of people had 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.” (Reuters and Agence France-Presse)