Conditions testing patrols in Tacloban

Updated: 2013-11-30 08:15

By Zhang Yunbi (China Daily)

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Authorities in the Philippines have mobilized public servants from around the country to meet manpower demands and help ensure social order in areas devastated by super Typhoon Haiyan.

Jefry R. Gamboa, a 25-year-old police inspector of the Philippine National Police's Special Action Forces who is normally stationed in Manila, came along with seven of his fellow officers to provide a helping hand.

They are guarding a hotel in Tacloban that accommodates local and international charity groups.

"It is indeed safer here now than in the past few weeks. But the curfew is still on," Gamboa said.

Tacloban, the provincial capital of Leyte island and a resort destination, was rammed by the typhoon on Nov 8. The city maintains an 8 pm curfew, and streets may not be occupied again until 5 am. It's a response to waves of smash-and-grab looting of local shops by refugees and unidentified outlaws in the days immediately following the storm.

The deadly storm, which killed more than 4,000 people, has created heavy demand for food and water to sustain civilians trapped on the island.

Conditions testing patrols in Tacloban

Some shops and pharmacies have reopened, but mineral water is being sold at prices much higher than before the disaster.

Although many fewer cases of robbery have been reported, and the security "has been improved", Gamboa said, he and his fellows continue to patrol the city following their arrival two weeks ago.

They often advise foreign visitors to stay indoors at night to avoid unpredictable assaults on the often lawless muddy avenues, where power failures have darkened street lamps.

"At night, two officers are on duty while the others are sleeping. They will patrol around the hotel for an hour, and then go back and are replaced by two others," Gamboa said.

The officers are stationed in the lobby of a deserted cafe at the hotel's entrance, with their sleeping bags on the floor and laundry hanging above.

They washed the clothes themselves, and they cook as well. Lunch is simple: rice and braised pork.

Drinking water comes from the Philippine Red Cross, which has a station in the hotel.

Nick Molina, Gamboa's teammate, said it's actually no trouble living in the open, exposed to tropical mosquitoes. The bugs ignore police authority, but insect repellent does the trick.

The team has not received any instructions from Manila regarding a return date, and so it will stay until the situation is "totally under control", Molina said.

Jake Flore, team leader with the Bureau of Fire Protection from the Philippine administrative region of Caraga, Mindanao island, has spent the week with his team stationed on Seaside Avenue in front of Tacloban's city hall.

Every day they see an unending stream of local residents walking along the beach to search for bodies or valuables. One of the officers' jobs is to guide the civilians in retrieving the corpses. They contact sanitation authorities who dispatch trucks to take the bodies away.

According to Flore, the unpleasant stench along the shore largely stems from undiscovered corpses still buried beneath the surface.

"In the past two days, we have not found bodies. They have already taken away the corpses that were on the surface; the remaining bodies may be buried deep down," Flore said.

Another mission is to carry drinking water to refugees in local evacuation centers.

"We drive our firetrucks to the water supply station to get filled. Then we go to the evacuation centers. Usually there are more than 1,000 people lined up," Flore said.

For now, Flore and his fellows sleep in the main hall of the Tacloban city fire station.

Marvin Bolonia, Flore's teammate, said they all miss their families "very much".

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Conditions testing patrols in Tacloban

(China Daily 11/30/2013 page6)