Thousands of people jostled and begged for seats on scarce flights out of the Philippine city demolished by super typhoon Haiyan, while anger at the slow pace of aid reaching the disaster zone turned deadly.
Five days after Haiyan ripped apart entire coastal communities, the situation in Tacloban is becoming ever more dire, with essential supplies low and survivors becoming increasingly desperate.
“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 said 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,” she said.
It emerged that eight people were crushed to death on Tuesday when a huge crowd of survivors from one of the strongest storms ever recorded rushed a government rice warehouse in Alangalang, 17 kilometres from Tacloban.
“One wall of our warehouses collapsed and eight people were crushed and killed instantly,” said Rex Estoperez, spokesman for the National Food Authority.
The United Nations estimates 10,000 people may have died in Tacloban, the provincial capital of Leyte province where five-metre waves flattened nearly everything in their path.
However, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said late Tuesday he believed that toll was “too much”, adding that 2500 “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 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.”
Things look grim for 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,” 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.
President Aquino has declared a “state of national calamity”, allowing the government to impose price controls and quickly release emergency funds.