TACLOBAN, Philippines (Reuters) - Hung outside a shattered church in the Philippine coastal city of Tacloban, on a road flanked with uncollected corpses and canyons of debris, is a handwritten sign.
It read, “We need help!”
Relief supplies are pouring into Tacloban three days after Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, turned this once-vibrant port city of 220,000 into a corpse-choked wasteland.
Tacloban city administrator Tecson Juan Lim says the death toll in this city alone “could go up to 10,000.”
At least a dozen U.S. and Philippines military cargo planes arrived on Monday, with the Philippine air force saying it had flown in about 60,000 kg (66 tons) of relief supplies since Saturday. But the demand is huge and the supplies aren’t reaching those who need it most.
“People are roaming around the city, looking for food and water,” said Christopher Pedrosa, a government aid worker.
Aid trucks from the airport struggle to enter the city because of the stream of people and vehicles leaving it. On motorbikes, trucks or by foot, people clog the road to the airport, clutching scarves to their faces to blot out the dust and stench of bodies.
Hundreds have already left on cargo planes to the capital, Manila, or the second-biggest city of Cebu, with many more sleeping rough overnight at the wrecked airport in the hope of boarding flights in the coming days.
Reuters journalists travelled on a government aid truck which took five hours to pick up 600 bags of rice, tinned goods and milk from the airport and take it to a distribution point at City Hall. Thousands more bags were left at the airport because the truck wasn’t big enough, said officials.
Pedrosa, the government aid worker, said security concerns prevented supplies from being handed out after dark.
“There might be a stampede,” he said.
The aid truck was guarded by soldiers toting assault rifles. “It’s risky,” said Jewel Ray Marcia, a Philippine army lieutenant who led the unit.
“People are angry. They are going out of their minds.”
“NOTHING LEFT TO LOOT”
The official slogan of Tacloban is “A City of Progress, Beauty and Love”. But Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, has turned that on its head, as desperation and anger grow. Residents wait with increasing impatience for a trickle of aid to become a torrent.
Earlier on Monday, said Pedrosa, soldiers fired warning shots into the air to stop people stealing fuel from a petrol station.
A heavier presence of soldiers and police on the debris-choked streets has stopped most looting, at least for now.
People were still emptying one warehouse of rice and loading it onto carts and motorcycles. No police or soldiers stopped them.
A handwritten sign pinned to a makeshift police checkpoint near a looted department store warned of an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. Reuters was unable to confirm whether the curfew was observed or enforced.
Also cleared out is a bottling factory for beer and soft drinks. In some areas, Coca-Cola was handed out free while drinking water was impossible to find. Officials were warning residents not to drink water from wells, which were likely polluted.
But there is another reason the looting had abated.
“There is nothing left to loot,” said Pedrosa.
“THERE IS NOTHING HERE”
Officials attribute the high death toll to the many people who stayed behind to protect their property and were swept away in a storm surge of water and lacerating debris.
One of them was Marivel Saraza, 39, who moved her six children further inland before Haiyan struck, but stayed behind to look after her home only a stone’s throw from the sea.
She ended up battling through chest-high water to reach higher ground, while the storm surge destroyed her two-story concrete home.
“My house just dissolved in the water,” she said.
Saraza now struggles to feed her children. The government gave her 2 kg (4.4 lb) of rice and a single can of sardines - barely enough for one family meal - so her husband was foraging for fruit further inland. But trees have been combed flat by the force of the wind and rice fields inundated with salt water.
Haiyan struck with a force strong enough to drown hundreds of people in a storm surge and send cars and shipping containers tumbling through neighborhoods. All that’s left of the main airport building is a carcass of twisted metal.
The sea has yet to retreat from some neighborhoods and the streets are flooded. The bay is littered with half-submerged cars.
Some people are making shelters from what the water has left of their broken homes. Others, unable to find any flat ground amid the ruins, sleep on sodden mattresses on their roofs. Some 5,000 people sheltered in a stadium.
The streets empty at night, the ruins lit here and there by cooking fires, or scoped by the powerful lights of passing army trucks.
Rusty Lacambra, 42, is joining the exodus along with his wife, two sons and niece. On Monday night he hitched a lift in an army truck bound for the airport to wait with hundreds of others hoping for a free flight on a cargo plane to Manila.
“My house is destroyed,” he said. “Even if you have money there is no food to buy. There is nothing here.”
Editing by Jason Szep and Robert Birsel