Tacloban (Philippines): Fears that the dire situation among desperate typhoon survivors in the Philippines would tip into violence receded Friday, as relief operations scaled up and a reinforced police presence deterred looters.
At Tacloban airport, which had witnessed frenzied scenes earlier in the week as crowds fought for a seat on any plane leaving the devastated city, a semblance of order had been restored.
“Things are looking very different here than they were when we arrived,” said Captain Jon Shamess of the US Airforce’s 320th Special Tactics Squadron, which had flown in from Okinawa on Tuesday to help secure the airport.
“Before, as soon as a plane landed, people were all rushing towards it trying to get on, which is obviously a very dangerous situation,” Shamess said.
There were still thousands of people desperate to get out, but most stood patiently, waiting their turn.
In Tacloban city the police deployment had swelled to around 1,200 on Friday, with reinforcements flown in from Manila, according to Wilben Mayor, spokesman for the Philippines national police chief.
A typhoon survivor cuts bamboo to build a shack after his house was destroyed by the typhoon in Palo, on the outskirts of Tacloban
“There was some looting but that has been contained now,” Mayor told AFP.
“We’re still very alert to the security situation, but our focus is switching from crime prevention to supporting the relief effort,” he added.
A strict dusk-to-dawn curfew has been in force in Tacloban since Monday night.
Isolated shooting incidents in the immediate aftermath of last Friday’s super typhoon had fuelled concerns of a breakdown in law and order as survivors struggled to survive without food, water or electricity.
Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez dismissed these as acts of “petty crime” that were only to be expected given the disaster that stuck the once bustling city of 220,000 people.
They were clear signs that some shops had been emptied for reasons other than mere survival, with people seen hawking canned goods, cigarettes and detergent powder on the sides of the street in one Tacloban district.
But Patrick Fuller, Asia-Pacific spokesman for the Red Cross, which has teams on the ground in Tacloban and other storm-devastated areas, said initial reports of looming anarchy had been overblown.
“We have to recognise the difference between ordinary, very desperate people in Tacloban looting local food stores as their last resort, and armed bandits,” Fuller said.
“I don’t think the security concerns are as bad as has been described in some media reports,” Fuller said.
Helping stabilise the situation was the arrival of the US aircraft carrier, USS George Washington, which began flying in urgently needed aid to towns worst-hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan.
“But it’s not just about food, it’s about opening access to remote areas,” Fuller cautioned.
Philippine military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said 15,000 troops had been deployed in storm-struck areas and that there had been no repeat of an attack Tuesday by communist insurgents on a convoy carrying aid to Tacloban.
“Our main problem is not so much security as logistics,” Zagala said.
“We need to clear roads so that we can improve distribution and get the aid to remote areas,” he added.
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