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Tacloban residents see no future for city, says Deputy Mayor

SINGAPORE — The smell of death greets anyone entering the city of Tacloban. Hundreds of dead bodies are strewn along roads, some floating in the waters, and the sheer task of retrieving, identifying and burying them is overwhelming the Philippine city that was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan last Friday.

SINGAPORE — The smell of death greets anyone entering the city of Tacloban. Hundreds of dead bodies are strewn along roads, some floating in the waters, and the sheer task of retrieving, identifying and burying them is overwhelming the Philippine city that was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan last Friday.

Shops in the city of 200,000 stay shut as owners remain fearful of looters. The streets are dark at night because of toppled electrical lines, hampering relief efforts. So far, 434 bodies have been recovered, with 127 buried in mass graves.

As he described these scenes to TODAY in a phone interview, Tacloban’s Deputy Mayor Jerry Sambo Yaokasin said while he worries over the distribution of aid and rebuilding of the city, his deeper concern is that its residents have already lost confidence in the city’s future.

“I heard some international press, they have labelled this city as a dead city already,” said the 43-year-old from his office in Tacloban. “The whole city has been obliterated. It is like we are starting all over again.”

According to Philippine officials, the death toll from the typhoon stood yesterday at about 4,000.

Outside Mr Yaokasin’s office, the devastated port-city is beginning to stabilise, albeit slowly, as relief supplies and police reinforcements pour in. An increased military and police presence has halted looting in the city centre, although there are still reports of it in the suburbs.

But even as aid is coming in, its residents are fleeing the city, said the Deputy Mayor. Most of them middle-class residents who were part of Tacloban’s once-thriving commercial and educational industries.

“The hardest to rebuild is the confidence of the people. To still believe in this city, to still believe this city can be rebuilt, to be livable in the near future,” he said.

In an effort to return the city to normalcy, Mr Yaokasin has been trying to persuade shop-owners to reopen their shops, assuring them of added police protection from looters. People’s fears, he said, have also been heightened by the dark streets at night and it might take three weeks to fully restore power to Tacloban.

Meanwhile, hospitals, hotels and evacuation camps housing some 10,000 people are relying on generators for power. Some are living in makeshift tents and he is concerned about the rising number of children falling ill.

As for allegations that relief supplies are going to Tacloban and bypassing other cities hit by the typhoon, Mr Yaokasin refuted them, saying that aid arrived there first as it is a major hub with an airport. Ormoc and Guiuan, he said, have begun receiving aid since Thursday.

Though he has lived in the city all his life, Mr Yaokasin said nothing could have prepared them for the fourth-strongest tropical typhoon recorded in history.

“If you look at the footage, or the pictures, that is something we probably see only in the movies, at the end of the world, or apocalypse,” he said. “The first few days, people were walking to and fro, not knowing where they were going. It was like living zombies.”

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