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Informal supply chains help feed typhoon survivors
by Staff Writers
Tacloban, Philippines (AFP) Nov 23, 2013

Philippine prisoners return after typhoon mass escape
Palo, Philippines (AFP) Nov 23, 2013 - Nearly half of the detainees who escaped from a flooded jail at the height of Super Typhoon Haiyan have returned, many after helping their families deal with the storm's aftermath.

There were nearly 600 detainees at the Leyte Provincial Jail when the typhoon, one of the strongest ever to make landfall, flattened dozens of towns across the islands of Leyte and Samar on November 8.

The winds ripped off the roof of the prison, which houses detainees who are on trial, while gushing water from the mountains sent flash floods into the isolated complex near the ruined coastal town of Palo.

Prison guard Fidencio Abrea told AFP all of the detainees escaped as head-high water forced them to clamber up the prison grills and then over into stormy freedom, with no roof to contain them.

Abrea said the guards were themselves sheltering from the howling wind and powerful rains, so did not notice the mass escape.

But he said 251 prisoners had come back, and were now being housed in a section of the complex that suffered minor damage.

Returnees interviewed by AFP said their immediate concern after escaping was to check on or help loved ones, and that they came back because they did not want to ruin their chances of being exonerated at trial.

"I returned because I want my freedom to be legal," said Renato Comora, 47, who is on trial for murder.

Comora said he initially went to his wife and six children in the town of Dulag about 30 kilometres (18 miles) away.

"My family is OK, there are no casualties but my house is totally destroyed," he said inside the prison compound as other inmates milled around or were cooking on soot-blackened pots using firewood.

"I just wanted to make sure that my family was safe. After that, I returned on my own because I don't want to live the life of a fugitive."

Oldarico Raquel, 36, who is on trial for attempted murder, said he also escaped because he wanted to see his family.

His house was destroyed and he helped put up makeshift shelters for his family and relatives before returning to the jail, where he and 17 other inmates were packed in one cell.

Return to prove innocence

Danilo Tejones, 51, who is on trial for rape, said he returned because he was innocent of the charge.

"After escaping, I helped my family harvest rice for three days before I returned," he said.

"I could have stayed away but I decided to come back because I am innocent of the charge. I want my case to be finished so that I can get free legally."

Thirty-two-year-old Jessie Abalos said he escaped so that he could go and help his 60-year-old mother rebuild their home in the town of Tolosa.

"Our house has been blown away. So I helped my mother put up a temporary shelter, then I returned," said Abalos, who is on trial for drugs charges.

Asked why he had returned, he said he was afraid of living a life as a fugitive.

Jail officials said prisoners are returning directly to the compound or just presenting themselves to a prison van that drives around the disaster zones looking for the detainees.

Palo and the nearby provincial capital of Tacloban remain scenes of near complete chaos, two weeks after the storm that has left nearly 7,000 people dead or missing.

Prison guard Abrea said returnees would have the court hearings of their cases speeded up, giving the innocent a chance to be set free more quickly.

But those who did not return by a certain date would be formally declared as "escapees".

"Once they are declared as escapees, they will be hunted down," he said.

Supplementing the quickening relief effort trying to help survivors of the Philippines typhoon is an informal -- and sometimes underground -- supply chain that is helping some people put food on the table.

Families from as far away as Manila and the southern island of Mindanao endure long journeys by air, sea and land to bring food packs, tents, medicines and other materials to affected relatives.

Friends stay with friends and communities share whatever they have, especially if a neighbour has babies, children or elderly members.

Marife Sumapig and her family have received only one food pack since Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever to hit land, smashed through the central Philippines on November 8, leaving more than 5,000 dead and millions homeless.

The aid package contained four kilograms (nine pounds) of rice, some cup noodles and two cans of sardines -- barely enough for a few days.

"But despite getting help only once, we have not gotten hungry so far. There seems to be food on the table every day," she told AFP from her damaged house in the city of Tacloban, one of the hardest-hit places.

"Today I ate lunch at my sister's place. Yesterday, my husband bought some vegetables in another town, so we're tiding over."

Sumapig, her husband and their eight-year-old son have taken up an offer from a friend to stay at his house, one of the few private buildings in the city that is still habitable.

Help is coming in from Manila, where their 17-year-old daughter Ameel is studying. "When her classmates learned that she is from Tacloban, they pooled their resources and gave her some money and groceries," Marife Sumapig said.

In the town of Burawin, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Tacloban, three men were chewing on dried squid as they supped a gin and cola, courtesy of a relative who had travelled from the city of General Santos on Mindanao to bring the goodies.

30-hour journey to deliver food

"It took me about 30 hours' travelling by ship and bus to come here," said Juanito Nario, 47.

He told AFP he brought the squid, rice, noodles, canned goods, medicine, soap and matches to his sister.

A less talked-about, but no less important side of the food chain in Tacloban and nearby towns, say residents, are items taken from two department stores in the first few days after the typhoon.

At the time there were no police officers on the streets and chaos reigned, resulting in a free-for-all as hungry people helped themselves to groceries and other merchandise.

A Tacloban entrepreneur, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said his family had been receiving food from scavengers they had sheltered in the storm's immediate aftermath.

He had allowed five families to put up temporary shelters on his wide front yard just after the storm hit, and received the kindness back many times over.

"I was surprised because they would give us branded sausages and hot dogs which I knew came from a certain mall," the businessman said, apparently referring to the Robinsons supermarket chain, which was was raided by mobs for four days before out-of-town police were flown in to impose order.

"We knew they were looted groceries but what can we do? We need food," said the businessman.

"And they were generous enough to share them with us. Some of the stuff we also shared with those in need," he said.

Over the past week, AFP has been offered several items that appeared to have come from shops that have not been open since the storm, including alcohol and fruit.

"I think that by ransacking the supermarket, the residents forgot the trauma they suffered from the typhoon. Even those we knew had relatives who died participated in the looting," the businessman added.

"It seems that the motto was: You're not from Tacloban if you did not get something."

UK sends six more aid planes to typhoon-hit Philippines
London (AFP) Nov 24, 2013 - Britain is to send six more plane-loads of aid to the Philippines to help survivors of a devastating typhoon, the government announced on Sunday.

The planes will carry thousands of tents, blankets, tarpaulins and cooking sets to the Philippines in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which has left more than 5,000 people dead and another 1,600 missing, according to government estimates.

The pledges came as Britain's International Development Secretary Justine Greening visited some of the areas worst hit by the typhoon, including the flattened city of Tacloban.

"While we can be proud that UK kit and personnel are making a difference in the immediate term, we will not stop here," she said in a statement released by her ministry.

The British government has pledged 50 million pounds ($81 million, 60 million euros) to the relief effort and sent two warships, while Britons have donated an additional 57 million pounds through the national Disasters Emergency Committee.

Greening said British aid would help the Philippines protect itself against future disasters as well as assisting women and girls, "who are often the ones who suffer disproportionally in the wake of crises like this".

Some 5 million pounds of British aid will be invested in flood defences for four cities in the Philippines, while 3 million pounds given through the United Nations and Red Cross will provide relief and safe shelter for female survivors.


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