Typhoon Haiyan survivors die in rice warehouse stampede

Aid agencies are battling to help the many injured and homeless survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. (Reuters)

Aid agencies are battling to help the many injured and homeless survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. (Reuters)

A warehouse was looted on Tuesday in Alangalang town, 17 kilometres from the devastated city of Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the devastating typhoon, one of the worst on record.

"One wall of our warehouses collapsed and eight people were crushed and killed instantly," said Rex Estoperez, spokesperson for the National Food Authority.

Police, soldiers and private security teams were guarding the storeroom but were overpowered by the crowd, who carted off more than 100 000 bags of rice, he added.

"There must have been so many people to carry away so many bags of rice," he said, adding that each bag weighed 50 kilogrammes. "Our staff were there but they could not do anything without risking their safety."

Estoperez said his agency believed looters were looking to profit by selling the grain.

"Some people are really hungry but others just wanted to ransack for money," he said, adding that the food authority was co-ordinating with the transport department and military to ensure that ships and trucks carrying rice would be properly guarded.

The government has imposed a curfew, put armoured vehicles on the streets and set up checkpoints to curb looting.

The typhoon left huge areas isolated and hundreds of thousands of people homeless and hungry, largely across Leyte island where Tacloban is the provincial capital.

At Tacloban airport, Agence France-Presse journalists witnessed exhausted and famished survivors pushing and shoving each other to get on one of the few flights out of the city.

Overwhelmed and under-resourced rescue workers have been unable to provide enough food, water, medicines, shelter and other relief supplies to many survivors, and desperation has been building across the disaster zones.

The international relief effort is however building momentum with many countries pledging help. The US and Britain are sending warships carrying thousands of sailors to the Philippines, and US amphibious craft were also being deployed.

All were expected to arrive over the next few days. But for a shattered population already in dire straits, any delay is too long.

'People are desperate'
"People are desperate because they have nothing in Tacloban," Marco Boasso of the International Organisation for Migration said.

Hundreds of soldiers and police were patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints in Tacloban on Wednesday to try to prevent pillaging and the government said roads were now passable throughout the area, raising hope that relief might reach those in need.

"All the roads and bridges except two bridges in Region 8 are already passable," said National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council chief Eduardo del Rosario.
Region 8 includes Leyte and Samar, the two hardest hit provinces.

Revised death toll
The United Nations estimated 10 000 people may have died in Tacloban, where five-metre (16-foot) waves flattened nearly everything in their path as they swept hundreds of metres across the low-lying land.

However, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said late on Tuesday he believed that toll was "too much", adding that 2 500 "is the figure we're working on", despite the rapidly-climbing toll and the bodies still littering the streets of Tacloban.

Cabinet secretary Rene Almendras admitted authorities had been overwhelmed by the sheer number of deaths.

"The reason the body recovery stopped is because we ran out of body bags," he said. "But we now have 4 000 bags. I am not saying the casualties are 4 000. We are making sure there is an oversupply."

Aquino's figure of up to 2 500 deaths looked set to be easily surpassed. By early afternoon on Wednesday, the government said 2 275 people were known to have died and 80 were still missing.

International aid groups said they feared what was known now was just the tip of the iceberg.

"Obviously the situation in Tacloban is appalling but we are also very concerned about outlying islands," Patrick Fuller, Red Cross spokesperson in the Asia-Pacific, said.

"There are a lot of them and I think it will be days, if not weeks, before we have a clear picture ... it's too early but [the death toll] will definitely be in the thousands. – AFP

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