In the withered heart of the typhoon disaster zone, defeated survivors abandoned hopes Tuesday of a dignified burial for their loved ones and tried to flee aboard military planes.
Four days after Super Typhoon Yolanda slammed the Visayas, the worst-hit islands of Leyte and Samar remained largely cut off.
Countless survivors remained trapped in their devastated communities, with roads, bridges and airports destroyed, while paralyzed telephone networks and lost mobile phones meant most could not inform relatives outside they were safe.
A lucky few were being taken out for free by Philippine military cargo planes flying in and out of the barely functioning airport at Tacloban, the devastated capital of Leyte province where most of the deaths are believed to have occurred.
Maria Adelfa Jomerez, 58, was one of hundreds of people gathered at the airport hoping to hitch a ride out of their apocalypse, willing to walk away from the bodies of her son, his wife and their four-year-old son.
Jomerez said she wanted to fly to Manila to join her daughter.
She left her grandson’s corpse under a tarpaulin at a devastated city hotel, where other bodies were being temporarily stored, while the bodies of her son and daughter-in-law were in a funeral home.
“I asked the mortuary to give my son and his wife proper coffins, but they told me their staff had not reported for work and that some of them were probably dead as well,” Jomerez said.
“There are no vehicles to transport them to the cemetery anyway… I would prefer that they not be buried in a mass grave, but I cannot do anything about that.”
Like the others at the ruined passenger terminal of the airport, Jomerez could do nothing but wait in the rain without any guarantee of getting on a flight.
The crowd included a group of children with handwritten signs hanging from their necks, saying “survivor”, placed by officials to ensure they received priority handling in the queue.
About 20 Philippine air force troops with rifles guarded the tarmac, preventing the people from rushing the planes that arrived intermittently, bringing relief supplies, aid workers and journalists.
About 150 people were able to get on one plane, including elderly and injured people in wheelchairs, but most of those waiting were not optimistic of getting out.
‘Every man for himself’
Jemalyn Lamberto, 38, the wife of an overseas worker based in Cyprus, stood in the queue and wept silently, oblivious to the rain, with her daughter, niece and mother-in-law.
“We were told to queue and not leave our positions. But when a plane arrived, it was every man for himself,” she said.
Lamberto said she was desperate to get out of Tacloban so she could call her husband, who did not know if they were alive, and also simply to escape the carnage.
“It is impossible to stay here in Tacloban. Everything is ruined. The dead are starting to stink. There is nothing to eat,” she said.
Meanwhile, in Manila, the grieving tide of desperation was turning the other way as frantic people who had not heard from missing relatives tried to get on board one of the military planes flying relief supplies into Tacloban.
Housewife Elsie Legaspi Damiles, 52, said she needed to get to Leyte to find out about her 28-year-old daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren.
If she got on the flight, Damiles said she would then take the 50-kilometer trip to Ormoc town where they live.
When told there were no vehicles going to Ormoc, she said: “I will just have to find a ride to Ormoc. Whatever is available. I will walk if I have to.”