When two Philippine Air Force C-130s arrived at the typhoon-wrecked Daniel Romualdez airport in Tacloban City just after dawn yesterday, more than 3,000 people who had camped out hoping to escape the devastation surged onto the tarmac past a broken iron fence. Only a few hundred made it aboard; the rest were left in a shattered, rain-lashed city short of food and water and littered with uncounted bodies.
Just a dozen soldiers and several police held the crowd 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.
“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.”
“We need help. Nothing is happening,” said Ariston Balute, an 81-year-old who also didn’t get a flight. “We haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon.” Her clothes were soaked from the rain, and tears streamed down her face.
scenes of misery
The struggle at Tacloban’s airport is one of countless scenes of misery in Eastern Visayas since supertyphoon Yolanda struck Friday. Only a tiny amount of assistance has arrived and the needs of the nearly 10 million people affected by the disaster are growing ever more urgent.
The official death toll from the disaster stood at 1,774 yesterday, though authorities have said they expect that to rise markedly. They fear estimates of 10,000 dead are accurate and might be low.
Beside the ruined airport tower, at a small makeshift clinic with shattered windows, army and air force medics said they had treated around 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.
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.
“People are just scavenging in the streets. People are asking food from relatives, friends. The devastation is too much… the malls, the grocery stories have all been looted, “he said. “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.
More typhoon survivors from Tacloban City arrived yesterday at the Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mactan island in Cebu.
Officials said they recorded a total of 499 military personnel, and 2,881 civilian arrivals since Saturday. Some of the survivors sought medical treatment while others went on to travel to other places to seek refuge. Among those who arrived yesterday was the family of Robert Gobalani, 22, from barangay San Jose in Tacloban City. There were nine of them.
Gobalani, an employee of a pharmaceutical company, said he is still waiting for his father and other siblings who were left behind as they could not be accommodated in the air force mercy flight.
He said they have not eaten for three days.“We were so hungry because we did not receive any help from the government,” he told Cebu Daily News.
“Kung hindi kami dito nakapunta ng Cebu hindi kami makaka-pagpalit ng damit , hindi kami makaka-toothbrush, at hindi rin kami makakain,” he added.
The family is set to take a flight bound for Manila where they will temporarily stay with their relatives.
“It will take a lot of years for us to come back in Tacloban City. I grew up there as well as my family but I need to look for a job for us to survive,” he added.
“Our house was totally damaged, we were even lucky because we were not swept away by the storm surge.”
When the storm subsided, Gobalani admitted that he joined the mob that broke into the Robinson’s mall as his family had no food to eat.
Four days after the storm and with no help in sight, the family decided to go to the airport and take their chances.
Also waiting at the Mactan air base were anxious people who wanted to go to the typhoon-devastated city to look for their kin.
Jun Mabansag, 42 came all the way from Cainta town in Rizal province. He was hoping to hop onto a C-130 flight that was set to transport aid workers and relief goods to Tacloban City.
“When I heard the story of the survivors, I don’t really want to go back but I also need to check on my family and other relatives there,” he told CDN.
Lt. Col. Marciano Jesus Guevarra, chief of Civil Military Operations of the 2nd Air Division, told Cebu Daily News that they are expecting more refugees to arrive.
“We still even have a thousand in our pending list and a possibility that there will be more additional people that will arrive here,” he added. /AP and correspondent Michelle Joy Padayhag