Typhoon Haiyan: Thousands of Filipinos jostle for seats on scarce flights

TACLOBAN, Philippines (AFP) - Thousands of people on Wednesday jostled and begged for seats on scarce flights out of a Philippine city demolished by a super typhoon, as anger at the slow pace of aid reaching the disaster zone turned deadly.

News emerged that eight people were crushed to death on Tuesday when a huge crowd of survivors from Haiyan - one of the strongest storms ever - rushed to a government rice warehouse in Alangalang town, 17 kilometres from the devastated city of Tacloban.

"One wall of our warehouses collapsed and eight people were crushed and killed instantly" in Tuesday's incident, said Mr Rex Estoperez, spokesman for the National Food Authority.

Five days after Haiyan ripped apart entire coastal communities, the situation in Tacloban was becoming ever more dire with essential supplies low and increasingly desperate survivors jostling at the airport.

"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 United Nations estimates that 10,000 people may have died in Tacloban, the provincial capital of Leyte province where five-metre 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 Tuesday that he believed the toll was "too much", adding that 2,500 "is the figure we're working on".

At Tacloban airport, AFP journalists witnessed exhausted and famished survivors pushing and shoving each other to get on one of the few flights out of the city, where festering bodies still littered many streets.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona admitted authorities were struggling to deal with the sheer numbers of the dead.

He told radio station DZMM they had "delayed" the retrieval of bodies "because we ran out of body bags".

"We hope to speed it up when we get more body bags," he said.

Patience is running out among the survivors

"We have been here for three days and we still cannot get to fly out," said a frail Angeline Conchas, who was waiting for space on a plane with her seven-year-old daughter Rogiel Ann.

Her family were trapped on the second floor of their building as flood waters rose around them.

They made their way to safety by clinging on to an electricity cable to move to a higher structure where they stayed until the waters subsided.

"It is a good thing the electricity had already been cut off or we would have died," Ms Conchas said.

"We made it out, but now we may die from hunger."

The UN estimates more than 11.3 million people have been affected with 673,000 made homeless, since Haiyan smashed into the nation's central islands on Friday.

Overwhelmed and under-resourced rescue workers have been unable to provide food, water, medicines, shelter and other relief supplies to many survivors, and desperation has been building across the disaster zones.

On Tuesday, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos praised the international community's reaction but said much more needed to be done in a disaster of such magnitude.

The international relief effort is building momentum with many countries pledging help. The United States and Britain are sending warships carrying thousands of sailors to the Philippines.

The aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which has 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft aboard, is heading from Hong Kong with five other US warships, while three amphibious vessels are also being deployed.

The carrier group is expected to reach the Philippines later this week, the Pentagon said, bringing much needed supplies. But for a shattered population already in dire straits, any delay is too long.

"People are desperate because they have nothing in Tacloban," Mr Marco Boasso of the International Organisation for Migration said.

Hundreds of soldiers and police were patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints in Tacloban on Wednesday to try to prevent pillaging.

President Aquino has declared a "state of national calamity", allowing the government to impose price controls and quickly release emergency funds.

Speaking in a CNN interview, he said that local officials who feared 10,000 had died in Tacloban may have been "too close" to the disaster to give an accurate toll.

"Being in the centre of the destruction... there is emotional trauma associated with that particular estimate," he said.

"The figure I have right now is 2,000... so far about 2,000, 2,500 is the figure we're working on," Mr Aquino added, though he admitted the toll still could rise.

The latest official government death toll stands at 1,798, although authorities have said they have not come close to accurately assessing the number of bodies lying amid the rubble or swept out to sea.

And international aid groups said they feared what was known now was just the tip of the iceberg.

"Obviously the situation in Tacloban is appalling but we are also very concerned about outlying islands," Mr Patrick Fuller, Red Cross spokesman in the Asia-Pacific, told AFP.

"There are a lot of them and I think it will be days, if not weeks, before we have a clear picture."

Haiyan's sustained winds when it hit Samar island, where it first made landfall, reached 315 kilometres an hour, making it the strongest typhoon in the world this year and one of the most powerful ever recorded.