TACLOBAN. — Hundreds of Philippine soldiers and police poured into a city devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan yesterday to try to contain looting that threatens an emergency relief effort. More than 10 000 people are feared to have died when one of the strongest storms on record sent tsunami-like waves and brutal winds tearing across large swathes of the Philippine archipelago last Friday, with the city of Tacloban one of the worst-hit areas.
Rescue workers were struggling to deliver desperately needed aid to thousands of hungry and homeless survivors in Tacloban, a city of 220 000 and the capital of Leyte province.
The task was being made more difficult by looting, with mobs breaking into supermarkets and even raiding a Red Cross aid convoy.
Survivors also reported gangs stealing consumer goods including televisions and washing machines from small businesses.
Civil Defence office spokesman Reynaldo Balido told ABS-CBN television that restoring law and order in Tacloban and other areas was one of the “main priorities”.
“We have sent substantial (forces) there and if we need to add some more, it won’t be just the police but even the armed forces,” Balido said.
Responding to claims that there was no visible police presence in the area, Balido said: “We will have to check on that and if necessary, we will inform the national police and the armed forces to send more troops to the area.
“We add them from other regions and other areas,” unaffected by the storm, he added.
President Benigno Aquino said on Sunday while visiting Tacloban that looting was a major concern, after only 20 officers out of the city’s 390-strong police force turned up for work.
“The local police were victims themselves,” Philippine National Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Reuben Sindac, told ABS-CBN television on Monday.
“Some of them also have families that are affected. We don’t even know how many (police) casualties (there) are.”
He said 469 national police had been sent to the area, 169 of whom are commandos from the Philippines’ Special Action Force.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said 100 soldiers had been sent to help police restore law and order in Tacloban, insisting that police officers were leading the security operation.
Zagala noted that there was already an infantry division of more than 4 000 soldiers based in nearby Samar, but they could not mobilise fully because of the devastation.
“Although we have many troops in the area, they too are affected,” he said.
Zagala said another 500 engineers had been dispatched to help clear the area of debris and re-establish communications.
On Sunday high school teacher Andrew Pomeda (36) told AFP: “People are becoming violent. They are looting business establishments, the malls, just to find food, rice and milk…. I am afraid that in one week, people will be killing from hunger.” — AFP.