Local officials monitored the desperate scenes in the early aftermath of Typhoon Bopha's onslaught in the isolated southern town of Cateel, Cedric Daep, a provincial public safety official, told AFP.
"The food aid took so long to arrive that the locals broke into whatever building left standing in search of something to eat," said Daep, a specialist sent to the south by the government to help rescue and relief operations.
Warehouses and grocery stores were broken into in Cateel, a coastal town near where the eye of the typhoon made landfall on Tuesday, Daep said.
Officials said damage to roads and bridges by floods and landslides trapped 150 000 people for three days in Cateel and the nearby towns of Baganga and Boston, where they said 97% of buildings were flattened or unroofed.
The typhoon killed more than 500 people and left hundreds of others missing across the south, rescue officials said.
A Philippine Navy vessel with 31 tonnes of emergency relief and 132 volunteer aid workers reached Baganga on Thursday, navy spokesperson Omar Tonsay told AFP, saying he had not heard of the Cateel looting.
Daep, speaking in the city of Tagum, at the edge of the southern disaster zone, said the region suffered its last strong typhoon in 1922, and has little expertise in coping with them.
"You have to organise (pre-disaster) evacuation, relief distribution systems, and putting up temporary shelters… They were not prepared," he said.
Daep said the priority was to ensure a reliable supply of food, safe water, shelter and clothing to the displaced victims, which the national government said included more than 200 000 people who have lost their homes.
"We have been receiving reports of people getting sick because they had been drinking contaminated water," he said.
He urged local governments in the disaster areas to help their people instead of waiting for the national government to organise relief and rehabilitation.
"They should organise cash- or food-for-work programmes to build shelters for the displaced," Daep said. – Sapa-AFP