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Panic spreads in typhoon-ravaged Philippines

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MANILA — Five days after Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the central Philippines, panic was spreading Wednesday and parched, hungry residents were resorting to increasingly desperate measures, including breaking into the homes of the dead.

Eight people were crushed to death when a huge crowd stormed a rice warehouse near Tacloban, one of the worst-hit cities, authorities said. More than 100,000 bags of rice were carted away in the melee, according to news reports Wednesday.

Elsewhere, residents dug up underground pipes and smashed them open to get water.

PHOTOS: Central Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan

The official death toll stood at 2,275, but aid workers feared it would continue to grow. The United Nations estimates that more than 11 million people were affected by the storm, one of the most powerful ever to make landfall.

As concerns grew about rampant looting and lawlessness, Philippine security forces sent reinforcements and imposed a nighttime curfew in Tacloban. Armed assailants have been holding up aid convoys headed to the city. On Tuesday, troops killed two suspected communist rebels who attacked one such convoy, the military said.

Local officials said bands of looters, having cleaned out shops in Tacloban, were beginning to break into the homes of people who had died or fled the city. But there were reports that newly arrived troops were restoring order.

Flights delivering aid from around the world are arriving at the airport in Cebu, which has been turned into a logistics hub for the relief effort. The many donations included a field hospital from Belgium and a portable purification plant from Germany, according to European officials.

By the end of the day Wednesday, the United States had delivered nearly 274,000 pounds of supplies to Tacloban, about 100 miles northeast of Cebu, said two senior Obama administration officials who briefed reporters in Washington on condition of anonymity. The shipments included plastic tarps, hygiene kits, blankets and medical supplies.

U.S. military personnel had also evacuated about 800 people from Tacloban to Manila for medical treatment.

Philippine welfare personnel loaded up packages of rice and canned food provided by the World Food Program and distributed them to nearly 50,000 Tacloban residents. But even there, where the bulk of assistance has been delivered, bodies still lined the streets because, authorities said, there were not enough hands to remove them.

Hundreds of additional Marines are expected to arrive in the Philippines by week's end to bolster the relief effort, which has struggled against logistical hurdles and the scale of the devastation.

Aid has yet to reach many victims of the typhoon, known by Filipinos as Yolanda, particularly on outlying islands.

"The major challenge is logistics," said Mathias Eick, a regional spokesman for the European Commission's humanitarian aid directorate. "With all this aid arriving and at the same time, the various Philippine authorities — military, civilian structures, the Philippine Red Cross — trying to distribute aid to so many communities ... obviously there are bottlenecks."

Some of the logistical problems eased Wednesday, as remote airstrips and major roads were cleared of debris. However, fuel shortages and lack of power remain problems in rural areas.

The longer the aid takes to arrive, the more people try to leave. Every day, desperate residents gather at Tacloban airport hoping for a spot on one of the departing supply planes.

"It's a very natural decision to take," Eick said. "However, that of course makes it difficult for aid agencies to find out where people are going to, where people are staying, and how much is needed in the various towns."

With much of the aid headed to Tacloban, on the island of Leyte, concern is growing for other hard-hit communities, such as the port of Ormoc.

"There is enough food in Ormoc for about two or three days, but if aid doesn't come through soon ... the situation could descend into chaos," said Julien Anseau, a spokesman for the U.S.-based aid group ChildFund International. "What we are seeing is aid coming into Ormoc, but it's not staying in Ormoc, it's going on to Tacloban."

An assessment team from the international aid group Doctors Without Borders visited Guiuan, in Eastern Samar province, where the typhoon first made landfall.

"The village has been flattened — houses, medical facilities, rice fields, fishing boats, all destroyed. People are living out in the open; there are no roofs left standing in the whole of Guiuan," team leader Alexis Moens said in a statement. "The needs are immense, and there are a lot of surrounding villages that are not yet covered by any aid organizations."

Defending the relief effort, Philippine Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras said Wednesday that major roads have been cleared of debris and authorities have reached all but four affected areas to assess the needs. Additional logistics hubs are being established in Ormoc and at an airstrip in Guiuan.

Aid deliveries will accelerate, Almendras told reporters. "It's just we have not seen anything on the magnitude that we are talking now."

Amid the devastation, there were heartwarming moments of resilience. Daryl Dano flew from Manila to Tacloban to search for her family, whom she found alive. When she arrived in the morning, she said residents were busy sifting through the vast fields of debris for anything they could salvage. But at night, she said, she was amazed to see people light a bonfire and gather in a circle to sing.

"They were sitting like Boy Scouts, sharing survival stories and what they did," she said. "They were sometimes even making jokes about the destruction around them.

"I asked them why or how they could laugh?" she said. A person replied, "I just have to think happy thoughts. This is my second life. I just have to move on from this point to the next."

[For the Record, 11:47 a.m. PST Nov. 14: In an earlier version of this post, Mathias Eick's last name was incorrectly given as Rick.]

alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

De Leon is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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