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Mass burial cancelled as Philippines anger turns deadly

AFP/ AP | November 13, 2013, 21.11 pm IST
A survivor sits among debris in the typhoon ravaged city of Tacloban, Leyte province, central Philippines on Wednesday. -AP
A survivor sits among debris in the typhoon ravaged city of Tacloban, Leyte province, central Philippines on Wednesday. -AP

Tacloban (Philippines): Gunfire forced the cancellation of a mass burial in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines on Wednesday as authorities struggled to dispose of the dead, while anger among survivors at the slow trickle of aid turned deadly.

Thousands of people jostled and begged for seats on scarce flights out of the ruined city of Tacloban, where putrefying corpses compounded a growing health menace after one of the strongest storms on record killed thousands.

Attempts to bury some of the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan suffered a setback when gunshots halted a convoy travelling towards a communal grave. "We had finished digging the mass burial site. We had the truck loaded with bodies, but, there was some shooting," Tacloban mayor Alfred Romualdez told reporters.

"They could not proceed." Adding to the grim body count, news emerged that eight people were crushed to death yesterday when a huge crowd of survivors from the typhoon rushed a government rice store.

"One wall of our warehouses collapsed and eight people were crushed and killed instantly," the National Food Authority's Rex Estoperez said of the incident in Alangalang town, 17 kilometres (10 miles) from Tacloban.

Five days after Haiyan ripped apart entire coastal communities, the situation in Leyte's provincial capital Tacloban was becoming ever more dire with essential supplies low and increasingly desperate survivors clamouring to leave.

"Everyone is panicking," Captain Emily Chang, a navy doctor, told AFP. "They say there is no food, no water. They want to get of here," she added, saying doctors at the airport had run out of medicine, including antibiotics.

"We are examining everyone but there's little we can do until more medical supplies arrive."

The World Health Organisation said there were significant injuries that needed to be dealt with, even as medics worked to prevent outbreaks of diseases caused by cramped living conditions and dirty drinking water.

It cautioned regular health needs also had to be met, including the 12,000 babies expected to be born this month to the more than 11.3 million people affected.

The United Nations estimates 10,000 people may have died in Tacloban alone, where five-metre (16-foot) waves flattened nearly everything in their path as they swept hundreds of metres across the low-lying land.

However, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said late yesterday he believed that number was "too much", adding that 2,500 "is the figure we're working on", despite the rapidly climbing toll and the bodies still littering the streets of Tacloban.

Next: Death toll hits 2,344 in Philippine typhoon 

Death toll hits 2,344 in Philippine typhoon

Manila: The official death toll from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has risen to 2,344. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council released the figures this evening. It said 3,804 were injured, with a further 79 missing.

The storm, one of the most powerful on record, hit the country's eastern islands on Friday, destroying tens of thousands of buildings and displacing about 600,000.

A massive relief operation is underway, though many in the disaster zone have yet to see much assistance. Relief operations picked up pace on Wednesday, but the minimal amounts of water, food and medical supplies reaching the hardest-hit areas were causing increasingly desperate survivors to take matters into their own hands.

Since the storm, people have broken into homes, malls and garages, where they have stripped the shelves of food, water and other goods.

Authorities have struggled to stop the looting. There have been unconfirmed reports of armed gangs involved in some instances. In some places, tsunami-like storm surges swept up to one-kilometre (mile) inland, causing more destruction and loss of life.

At least 580,000 people have been displaced. Most of the death and destruction appears concentrated on the islands of Samar and Leyte. 

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