The mayor of this typhoon-ravaged city urged residents on Wednesday afternoon to flee to other cities and find shelter there with relatives if they could, saying that the local authorities were struggling to provide enough food and water and faced difficulties in maintaining law and order.
The appeal from Mayor Alfred S. Romualdez came as the first attempt in Tacloban to conduct a mass burial ended in failure. A police convoy of trucks carrying more than 200 rotting corpses turned back after the officers heard gunshots as they approached the city limits.
Covered with black plastic tarpaulin, the bodies were returned to a gathering place at the foot of the hill topped by City Hall, where they released a powerful odor.
Mr. Romualdez said the city desperately needed trucks and drivers to distribute relief shipments of food that are piling up at the airport, as well as more trucks, heavy equipment and personnel to pull decaying corpses out of the unending mounds of debris and collapsed houses that stretch across this city….
He did not offer any municipal assistance to those seeking to leave the city, noting that the city had virtually no working vehicles. The local fleet of light buses and group taxis in Tacloban, a city of 220,000 before the typhoon, was destroyed by the storm surge. The United States and the Philippines have been offering some seats on planes leaving after dropping off relief supplies.
Jerry Sambo Yaokasin, the second-ranking official in the municipal government, said in an interview that Philippine soldiers and police officers may be stretched too thin to provide security in Tacloban even as they try to reach other coastal communities to assess damage. He suggested that foreign forces may be needed, including to provide security for gas stations to reopen.
“If the United States will come in, if it will be allowed to come, or if the United Nations can come in, it will really help us secure the city,” he said….
The Philippines has one of the world’s most heavily armed civilian populations, few effective gun control regulations and a tradition of violence being used in personal disputes, legacies of being an American possession before World War II….
The city has been slower to dig mass graves than outlying villages that also suffered heavy loss of life in the typhoon, because Tacloban neighborhoods have strongly resisted them, fearing that they might cause disease. Dr. Emmanuel M. Bueno, a director from the Philippines Department of Health, said that bodies would be disposed of safely, by laying them side by side in layers and putting sheets of tarpaulin sprinkled with lime in between each layer.
Local and national health officials agreed on Tuesday night to dig three mass graves just for Tacloban, Dr. Bueno said in an interview on Wednesday morning. “We are going to bury them in a mass grave so that decomposition will not be on view by the local residents,” he said. “We will give them at least a decent burial, with a blessing by a priest.” …
The true death toll from the typhoon is a mystery. The Philippine government put the official toll at 2,275. Few deaths have been confirmed in Tacloban because local officials say they are counting only bodies that they have collected or formally recorded.
But Mr. Yaokasin said that the leader of a single Tacloban neighborhood of 4,000 people had notified him that 1,000 residents had died.
Jennifer Cicco, the Leyte Island administrator of the Philippines Red Cross, said that thousands of people were missing and were presumed to have been swept out to sea and drowned. Arie Levy, the president of Sauveteurs Sans Frontières, a French nonprofit group, said that he had visited a village a mile beyond the city limits of Tacloban on Wednesday morning and estimated that there were roughly 1,000 bodies visible there.