NEW BATAAN, Philippines — Hungry and homeless typhoon survivors appealed for help Saturday as the ravaged southern Philippines mourned its more than 500 dead and desperate people in one hard-hit town looted shops in search of food.
Four days after Typhoon Bopha struck the major island of Mindanao, officials have struggled to bring in food and relief convoys through roads that had been blocked or swept away by floods and avalanches of rock, logs and mud.
About 4,000 residents in the destroyed farming village of Maparat had eaten the enclave’s surviving chickens and were left with scavenging fallen coconut fruits, said nursing mother Virginia Dodres, 38.
“I tried to breast-feed Mica, but they’re dry from lack of food. So I gave her coconut water, and now she’s down with colic,” mother-of-four Dodres told AFP as she comforted her crying one-year-old daughter.
All the houses had been carried off by floods and survivors were sleeping 80 to a room on the bare concrete floor of the local elementary school.
They share the toilet’s two stalls and are doing their washing and bathing at a nearby spring, which is also their only source of water.
Dodres said church workers with two big pots of porridge arrived Saturday bearing the first relief aid to Maparat, located a few kilometres (miles) from the devastated town of New Bataan. The food was gobbled up within minutes.
The village of flattened coconut and banana plants is linked by a muddy footpath to the main highway, where residents hung a hand-painted arrow with a crude sign on canvas that read: “Evacuation Area. Please Help Victims.”
Rescue officials said Mindanao’s east coast accounted for all but 40 of the 546 known deaths from the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year.
More than 500 other people are missing.
At least 211,000 people are taking refuge at crowded government-run shelters, according to the civil defence office in Manila.
Military trucks brought scores of coffins into Maparat early Saturday, as unidentified corpses retrieved from under rubble piled up at a government yard.
Cedric Daep, a public safety specialist, said desperate survivors looted shops and warehouses in Cateel, a hard-hit town on the Mindanao coast in the early aftermath of Bopha’s landfall there.
“The food aid took so long to arrive that the locals broke into whatever building (was) left standing in search of something to eat,” said Daep, who was sent to the south to help organise the disaster response.
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 percent of buildings were flattened or unroofed.
A Philippine Navy patrol vessel with 31 tonnes of emergency relief and 132 volunteer aid workers reached Baganga on Thursday, navy spokesman Omar Tonsay told AFP, saying he had not heard of the Cateel looting.
Daep said the region suffered its last strong typhoon in 1922, and had 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 survivors needed a reliable supply of food, safe water, shelter and clothing.