Thousands of typhoon survivors swarmed the airport here today seeking a flight out, but only a few hundred made it, leaving behind a shattered, rain-lashed city short of food and water and littered with countless bodies.
Four days after Typhoon Haiyan struck the eastern Philippines, only a trickle of assistance has made it to affected communities. Authorities estimated the storm killed 10,000 or more across a vast swath of the country. Millions are without shelter or food.
Tacloban, a city of about 220,000 people on Leyte island, bore the full force of the winds and the tsunami-like storm surges. Most of the city is in ruins, a tangled mess of destroyed houses, cars and trees. Malls, garages and shops have all been stripped of food and water by hungry residents.
The United Nations said it had released $25 million in emergency funds and was launching an emergency appeal for money.
Just after dawn today, two Philippine Air Force C-130s arrived at its destroyed airport along with several commercial and private flights. More than 3,000 people who camped out at the building surged onto the tarmac past a broken iron fence to get on the aircraft. Just a dozen soldiers and several police held them back.
Mothers raised their babies high above their heads in the rain, in hopes of being prioritized. One woman in her 30s lay on a stretcher, shaking uncontrollably. Only a small number managed to board.
“I was pleading with the soldiers. I was kneeling and begging because I have diabetes,” said Helen Cordial, whose house was destroyed in the storm. “Do they want me to die in this airport? They are stone-hearted.”
Most residents spent Monday night under pouring rain wherever they could — in the ruins of destroyed houses, in the open along roadsides and shredded trees. Some slept under tents brought in by the government or relief groups.
Local doctors said they were desperate for medicines. Beside the ruined airport tower, at a small makeshift clinic with shattered windows, army and air force medics said they had treated about 1,000 people since the typhoon for cuts, bruises, lacerations and deep wounds.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Air Force Capt. Antonio Tamayo. “We need more medicine. We cannot give anti-tetanus vaccine shots because we have none.”
International aid groups and militaries are rushing assistance to the region, but little has arrived yet. Government officials and police and army officers have all been caught up in the disaster themselves, hampering coordination.
The USS George Washington aircraft carrier was expected to arrive off the coast in about two days, according to the Pentagon. A similar-sized U.S. ship, and its fleet of helicopters capable of dropping tons of water daily and evacuating wounded, was credited with saving scores of lives after the 2004 Asian tsunami.
Joselito Caimoy, a 42-year-old truck driver, was one of the lucky ones at Tacloban airport. He was able to get his wife, son and 3-year-old daughter on a flight out. They embraced in a tearful goodbye, but Caimoy stayed behind to guard what’s left of his home and property.
“There is no water, no food,” he said. “People are just scavenging in the streets. People are asking food from relatives, friends. The devastation is too much. ... The malls, the grocery stores have all been looted. They’re empty. People are hungry. And they [the authorities] cannot control the people.”
The dead, decomposing and stinking, litter the streets or remain trapped in the debris.
At a small naval base, eight swollen corpses — including that of a baby — were submerged in water brought in by the storm. Officers had yet to move them, saying they had no body bags or electricity to preserve them.
The official death remained at 942. However, with shattered communications and transportation links, the final count was likely days away, and presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said “we pray” it does not surpass 10,000.