For the frantic crowds milling at the airport in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines city of Tacloban, the arrival of two air force C130s was a welcome sight.
But the cargo planes unloaded more soldiers than relief supplies – and most of the people hoping to board for the return flight to Manila had their hopes of escape from the disaster zone dashed.
“Get back! Get back into the building,” members of a Special Forces unit shouted through megaphones at families who had walked for hours to reach the shattered terminal. Many wept and begged to be allowed on board.
Although aid is beginning to trickle through to survivors of typhoon Haiyan, at least two-thirds of the estimated 660,000 displaced people are still without food, water and medicines. Aid agencies are still waiting to get staff into Tacloban, the regional capital of Leyte island, which bore the brunt of one of the most powerful storms ever recorded.
President Benigno Aquino said the death toll from the typhoon could be closer to 2,000 or 2,500 instead of the 10,000 that had been reported earlier.
A 15-person Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team of doctors and logistics experts with medical supplies has been waiting since Saturday in Cebu City, the nearest major airport, to get on one of the military planes to Tacloban. Doctors at a clinic set up at the ruined airport in Tacloban are desperate for supplies.
“It’s overwhelming,” air force Captain Antonio Tamayo told Associated Press. “We need more medicine. We cannot give anti-tetanus vaccine shots because we have none.” With many survivors still without clean water, food, shelter and medicines, there are increasing fears of disease outbreaks.
As a massive international aid effort swings ponderously into action – a US aircraft carrier with 5,000 soldiers and more than 80 aircraft is expected to arrive by Friday – questions were being asked about the Philippines government’s preparedness for a natural disaster forecast days before it struck.
Some observers say the impact of such a monstrous storm, with winds of more than 200mph and tsunami-like walls of water, was bound to be severe. Evacuation centres that were supposed to be typhoon-proof were destroyed.
Yet even in Tacloban, the focus of attention since the typhoon struck central Philippines on Friday, the official response has been chaotic. The city no longer has a functioning government, with officials either dead, missing or bereaved. City and hospital workers have reportedly focused on helping their own families and securing food. Only 20 of Tacloban’s 293 police officers are on duty.
“Basically, the only branch of government that is working here is the military,” a Philippines Army captain, Ruben Guinolbay, told Reuters.
Elsewhere, the situation may be even worse. “There are hundreds of other towns and villages stretched over thousands of kilometres that were in the path of the typhoon and with which all communication has been cut,” said Natasha Reyes, MSF’s emergency co-ordinator in the Philippines.
Those places include Guiuan, a fishing village on neighbouring Samar Island which suffered widespread destruction but is only just starting to receive relief supplies. “There are armed thieves going about,” one Guiuan resident told Agence France-Presse. “If they know that you have food stored away, they will force their way into your house and rob you.”
Other residents told of armed men stealing rice. “We’re helpless here. We are so few, and they are so many,” said one Guiuan policeman.
While the widespread looting seen in Tacloban has been curbed by military patrols and a curfew, the threat of violence remains. According to one charity, a man with a machete tried to rob aid workers receiving a delivery of medicines.
Read More: Here