Eight killed in typhoon food crush as relief efforts intensify

Eight killed in typhoon food crush as relief efforts intensify
Typhoon survivors prepare to board a military transport plane in Tacloban city. Picture: AP

Eight people were crushed to death when thousands of typhoon survivors stormed a government rice warehouse in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines, an official said.

National Food Authority spokesman Rex Estoperez said police and soldiers were helpless when the looting took place in Leyte’s Alangalang municipality.

He said the eight were crushed when a wall collapsed. The looters carted away more than 100,000 sacks of rice.

Mr Estoperez said there are other warehouses in the region but refused to say where they are for security reasons.

The deaths came as relief operations started picking up pace, although only minimal amounts of water, food and medical supplies were reaching increasingly desperate survivors in the hardest-hit areas.

Aviation authorities said two more airports in the region had reopened, allowing for more aid flights.

US Brigadier General Paul Kennedy said his troops are to instal equipment at Tacloban airport to allow planes to land at night. Tacloban city was almost completely destroyed in Friday’s typhoon and has become the main relief hub.

A Norwegian ship carrying supplies has left Manila, while an Australian air force transport plane took off from Canberra carrying a medical team. British and US navy vessels are also en route to the region.

The damaged airport on Tacloban, a coastal city of 220,000, houses makeshift clinics and thousands of people looking for a flight out. A doctor said supplies of antibiotics and anesthetics arrived yesterday for the first time.

“Until then, patients had to endure the pain,” said Victoriano Sambale.

The winds levelled tens of thousands of homes in the region, which is used to typhoons. In some places, tsunami-like storm surges swept up to a mile inland, causing more destruction and loss of life. At least 580,000 people have been displaced. Most of the death and destruction appears concentrated on the islands of Samar and Leyte.

The damaged infrastructure and bad communications links made a conclusive death toll difficult to estimate.

The official toll from a national disaster agency rose to 1,883 yesterday, while president Benigno Aquino III said the total could be closer to 2,000 or 2,500, lower than an earlier estimate that feared as many as 10,000 might be dead.

“There is a huge amount that we need to do. We have not been able to get into the remote communities,” UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said in Manila, launching an appeal for about $300m (€223m) to help the more than 11 million people estimated to be affected by the storm.

“Even in Tacloban, because of the debris and the difficulties with logistics and so on, we have not been able to get in the level of supply that we would want to. We are going to do as much as we can to bring in more,” she said.

Since the storm, people have broken into homes, shopping centres and garages, where they have stripped the shelves of food, water and other goods.

Authorities have struggled to stop the looting, and there have been unconfirmed reports of armed gangs involved in some instances.

Police are working to keep order across the ravaged wasteland and an 8pm to 5am curfew is in place.

“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.”

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