Posted on November 15, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan: Aid Convoys Come Under Fire as Relief Operation Becomes ‘Logistical Nightmare’

David Eimer, Telegraph (London), November 13, 2013

Security situation now desperate as tens of thousands clamour to escape the devastated city of Tacloban and hundreds of thousands of people remain stranded without food, water or shelter across the central Philippines.

Aid convoys attempting to bring relief to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan are coming under regular attack from both suspected communist rebels and starving survivors of the monster storm.

Relief columns being escorted by the Philippines army are now engaged in firefights with members of the New People’s Army, the militant wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The almost complete breakdown of law and order in the areas hardest-hit by Haiyan is only further hampering a relief operation that the UN’s World Food Programme is describing as a “logistical nightmare”.

One column was attacked this morning as it tried to travel across the San Juanico Bridge that links the devastated city of Tacloban with neighbouring Samar Province and was forced to turn back.

Last night, two rebels were killed outside Matnog, a port at the southern tip of Luzon Island, after they attempted to hijack a Red Cross convoy bound for Samar.

In Alangalang, an area just west of Tacloban, eight people were crushed to death when a wall collapsed after thousands of desperate victims of Haiyan stormed a government rice warehouse.

More than 100,000 sacks of rice were looted, according to National Food Authority spokesman Rex Estoperez.

Thousands of people are besieging the overwhelmed airport in Tacloban, where 10,000 people alone are believed to have been killed by tsunami-like storm surges, desperate to escape a city where corpses rot in the ruined streets and people scavenge amidst the debris for something to eat.

Earlier on Wednesday, reports emerged that eight people were crushed to death on Tuesday when a huge crowd of survivors from haiyan rushed a government rice store in Alangalang town, some 10 miles from Tacloban.

“There is no water, no food,” said Joselito Caimoy, one of the lucky few who managed to get his wife, son and daughter onto a flight out of Tacloban. “The malls, the grocery stores have all been looted. They’re empty. People are hungry and they (the authorities) cannot control the people,” said the 42-year-old truck driver.

Now, police and soldiers have to hold back the crowds which stampede towards the runway every time a plane lands at Tacloban airport.

Despite deploying commandos from the elite Special Action Force and imposing a night-time curfew in Tacloban, the authorities are unable to impose order on a city where people are half-crazed by hunger and thirst.

“The city has been thrown back to the primitive age,” said local fire chief Superintendent Rafel Doron.

Power and communications remain down in many areas. With roads blocked and the small airports in the areas flattened by Haiyan only just opening up, aid agencies are unable to get desperately-needed food and water to the people worst-affected by what may be the strongest storm ever to make landfall.

Children stand by the side of the few roads open begging for food and water and holding up signs that simply say, ‘Help Us’.

Five days after Haiyan struck, almost half of the 700,000 people left homeless by the storm are still sleeping rough, even as new tropical storms dump yet more rain on the vast swathe of the central Philippines smashed by Haiyan.

More and more people are falling ill and the prospect of widespread outbreaks of disease is becoming a real fear.

On Monday, the Philippines justice secretary Leila de Lima dismissed the idea of imposing martial law in places like Tacloban and Guiuan, the port in eastern Samar where Haiyan first made landfall and another town suffering from widespread disorder.

But with the few aid convoys that are setting out now under fire, she may be forced to re-consider that decision.