Driven to despair, survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines turned to looting in search for
food, water and medicine amid reports of warehouses and shops attacked in the aftermath of one of the strongest storms ever recorded.
As essential supplies dwindled, tensions rose. Since the storm hit the islands five days ago, residents have broken into homes, shops and warehouses, where they have drained shelves of food, water and other vital goods.
In the latest incident, Philippines security forces exchanged fire with armed looters in the village of Abucay, part of the worst-hit Tacloban in Leyte province, local ANC television reported on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, eight people were crushed to death after thousands of typhoon survivors stormed a government rice warehouse. Police and soldiers were helpless when the looting took place, National Food Authority spokesman said. The looters in Alangalang municipality carted away over 100,000 sacks of rice.
Warehouses owned by food and drinks company Universal Robina Corp and drug company United Laboratories in the storm-hit town of Palo, along with a rice mill in Jaro, were also ransacked.
"We have restored order," director of the Philippine National Police special action force, Carmelo Espina Valmoria, told AP. "There has been looting for the last three days, [but] the situation has stabilized."
"The looting is not criminality. It is self-preservation," Tacloban city administrator John Lim told Reuters. Tacloban, the principal city in Leyte province which has also become the main relief hub, currently lies in ruins, with communications and transport cut off in many areas.
According to Lim, 90 percent of the coastal city of 220,000 people had been destroyed, with only 20 percent of residents receiving aid. Houses there are looted there because warehouses are empty, the official says.
Some survivors carried signs reading "Help us". Others dug up water pipes in a desperate bid for water.
"We sourced our water from an underground pipe that we have smashed. We don't know if it's safe. We need to boil it. But at least we have something," Christopher Dorano, told Reuters.
One of the survivors, Rachel Garduce, said the minimal aid - 3 kg of rice and 1 liter of water per household a day - was not enough in her ravaged Tacloban neighborhood.
Islands of Leyte and Samar appear to concentrate most of the death and destruction from Typhoon Haiyan which swept through six central Philippine islands. In Leyte province alone, thousands are feared dead or missing.
Over 11 million people may have been affected and some 673,000 displaced by the typhoon, according to the UN. The preliminary number of those missing, according to the Red Cross, is 22,000.
Philippines President Benigno Aquino said however, that the death toll could be lower than initially thought. It was allegedly closer to 2,000 or 2,500 than the widely-reported figure of 10,000 killed.
According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, official confirmed deaths stood at 2,275 on Wednesday, with another 3,665 injured.
Meanwhile, relief operations are only starting to gain momentum, with two more airports in the region reopening, allowing for more aid flights.
While thousands of survivors have been looking for a flight out, makeshift clinics have been set up at the damaged airport in Tacloban. Teams from Belgium, Japan, Israel and Norway had arrived in the Philippines to set up field hospitals. One doctor, Victoriano Sambale, told AP supplies of antibiotics and anesthetics arrived Tuesday for the first time. Until then, patients had to endure the pain, he said.
The US and UK have dispatched warships to the typhoon-ravaged islands to help facilitate relief efforts. Japan is also set to deploy troops to the country to aid affected areas. The ships are expected to arrive in the next two to three days.
"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 on Tuesday in Manila, launching an appeal for $301 million to help those affected by the deadly storm.
Rescuers have managed to reach some previously cut off regions, such as Guiuan, a city of 40,000 people that was spared the storm surge. Local officials say 85 people died in Guiuan, with 24 missing.
The overall financial cost of the destruction is hard to assess so far. One report from the German-based CEDIM Forensic Disaster Analysis has put the total at $8 billion to $19 billion.