TACLOBAN, Philippines — Slicing up a steaming pig, the Lloren family quickly attracted buyers in central Tacloban on a street wrecked by Typhoon Haiyan.
After a week of hell, with no cooked food nor any emergency relief, hungry residents gratefully seized the chance Thursday to buy their favorite lechón — a whole roasted pig.
Some butchered meat has appeared on sidewalk tables here in recent days, often close to bloated corpses, but residents of this devastated city in the central Philippines have grown understandably nervous of its provenance. The city slaughterhouse was transformed into a dark, stinking morgue, powerless like the rest of Tacloban.
The latest figures put the death toll across the Philippines from Haiyan at 3,633, with another 12,487 injured. Many of the bodies remain tangled in piles of debris or are lining the road in body bags that seep fetid liquid.
After the initial days of chaos, when no aid reached the more than 600,000 people rendered homeless, an international aid effort is gathering steam.
“We’re starting to see the turning of the corner,” said John Ging, a top U.N. humanitarian official in New York. He said 107,500 people have received food assistance so far and 11 foreign and 22 domestic medical teams are in operation.
Meanwhile, many residents of the hardest-hit islands are looking to flee.
Despite demand for their pig, hauled here squealing on a three-hour motorbike ride, the Llorens planned to leave Friday for a relative’s house in Mindanao, a southern island less affected by Haiyan.
“Many friends and neighbors say they will leave, too,” said Fav Lloren, who has sold lechón here for 18 years, but doubts she will return for several months. “The poor people will stay here; they can’t afford to leave.”
By road, sea and air, many residents choose to join the swelling exodus. The reasons are obvious. In this city of about 250,000 people, no home was spared Haiyan’s fury, so families must improvise shelter as best they can. Although relief supplies are arriving, food, water and gasoline remain scarce. Electric power will not return for at least two months. And fears are rising about the outbreak of disease.
The exodus also confirms the rich-poor divide in the Philippines, where more than 25% of the population live in poverty, surviving on less than $ 2 a day. Unless people have family elsewhere to support them or their own means to get by, leaving the disaster area is not viable.
“I don’t have money to travel anywhere,” said Esmerelda Encomio, 59, who used to sell taro root snacks, earning $ 140 a month, near the Llorens’ now destroyed lechón store. “Only people with no money will stay here.”
Residents of Tacloban and the surrounding area on Leyte island mostly head for Manila, the sprawling Philippine capital, or Cebu, an island southwest of Leyte. Some try often-clogged roads, or hunt ferries, while many hundreds crowd the city’s wrecked airport terminal for free flights on Philippine and U.S. military cargo planes or flights on two commercial carriers.
Patience and perseverance are essential. “I’ve been waiting two days here for any plane,” said Michael Zelabarrea, 21, as he shared a friend’s umbrella to avoid the hot sun and frequent rainstorms that fell Thursday on the long line of people queuing to leave.
“I want to come back here but I am worried about the cadavers,” he said.
Authorities have begun putting corpses into body bags after days lying exposed or under sheets and corrugated metal.
From the balcony of his two-story home, entrepreneur Ernesto Yu can see and smell bodies floating by the seashore. Fearful of an epidemic, he has bought air tickets to Manila for his entire family, including nine grandchildren.
Haiyan destroyed the sea cages where Yu raised milkfish, causing $ 100,000 of damage not covered by insurance, he said. Eight staff members whose homes were washed away now live in Yu’s house and will guard his remaining assets.
” ‘We are not going to surrender, our business will recover,’ I told my employees,” he said.
Alan Alvarez, 45, used to haul meat on his motorbike and sidecar from the Tacloban slaughterhouse to city supermarkets.
“I saw over 70 cadavers inside, the smell is very bad,” he said of his first return visit Thursday. “Many Tacloban people now don’t want to eat meat.”
Now that his job is gone, so is Alvarez’s income to support a family of seven.
“If I had plenty of money, I would go to another town, but I don’t. Tacloban will take six months to recover,” he said.
Other residents tried to sound more bullish about the city’s prospects.
“I love Tacloban, I want to stay. I trust my mayor. Tacloban will rise again,” said Lee Anthony Olegario, 37, whose family is among 2,000 people making do inside the damaged Tacloban City Convention Center. Olegario, who worked at a biscuit warehouse, must wait up to two months until authorities build temporary shelters.
At the airport, where U.S. Osprey planes and giant C-130s produce a deafening roar, Bryce Clark, a staff sergeant in the 1st Special Forces Group, managed the exodus of people leaving on the C-130s as they returned to Manila and Cebu to load more relief supplies and personnel.
Clark, 27, from Hawaii, usually operates in south Mindanao, advising the Philippine military on anti-terrorist activities. After a decade in the army, “this is the first time I can quantify the good that I’ve done,” said Clark, whose cap bears the motto: “We do bad things to bad people.”
U.S. assistance earns plenty of gratitude here.
“I am so thankful for the U.S. soldiers,” said Lolita Militante, 80, who helped her frail husband, Graciano, 88, board a packed C-130.
“The house he built for 20 years has gone,” she said of their seaside home in Palo, near Tacloban. “We will go back, but I don’t know when.”
Contributing: The Associated Press