Desperation gripped Philippine islands devastated by Typhoon Haiyan as looting turned deadly on Wednesday and survivors panicked over delays in supplies of food, water and medicine, some digging up underground water pipes and smashing them open.
Five days after one of the strongest storms ever recorded crashed into cities and towns in the central Philippines, survivors in remote regions complained they had yet to receive any aid.
Controversy also emerged over the death toll.
President Benigno Aquino said local officials had overstated the loss of life, saying it was closer to 2,000 or 2,500 than the 10,000 previously estimated. His comments, however, drew scepticism from some aid workers.
Eight people were killed when looters raided rice stockpiles in a government warehouse in the town of Alangalang, causing part of the building to collapse, local authorities said.
Other looters still managed to cart away 33,000 bags of rice weighing 50 kg (110 lb) each, said Orlan Calayag, administrator of the state-run grain agency National Food Authority.
Television footage also showed soldiers sent in by Aquino to restore order in the city of Tacloban firing shots into the air to scatter looters there.
Tacloban city administrator Tecson John Lim said 90 percent of the coastal city of 220,000 people had been destroyed, with only 20 percent of its residents getting aid. Houses were now being looted because warehouses were empty, he said.
"The looting is not criminality. It is self-preservation," Lim told Reuters.
Some survivors in Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the storm, dug up water pipes in a desperate bid for water.
"We sourced our water from an underground pipe that we have smashed. We don't know if it's safe. We need to boil it. But at least we have something," said Christopher Dorano, 38.
"There have been a lot of people who have died here."
THOUSANDS REPORTED MISSING
The government has been overwhelmed by the force of the typhoon, which decimated large swathes of Leyte province where local officials have said they feared 10,000 people died, many drowning in a tsunami-like surge of seawater.
Aquino, who has been on the defensive over his handling of the disaster, said the government was still gathering information from various storm-struck areas and the death toll may rise. "Ten thousand, I think, is too much," Aquino told CNN in an interview. "There was emotional drama involved with that particular estimate."
"We're hoping to be able to contact something like 29 municipalities left wherein we still have to establish their numbers, especially for the missing, but so far 2,000, about 2,500, is the number we are working on as far as deaths are concerned," he said.
A presidential spokesman said Aquino referred to estimated deaths. Official confirmed deaths stood at 1,883 on Wednesday, with only 84 missing, a figure aid workers consider widely inaccurate.
Some aid workers also expressed scepticism at Aquino's estimate.
"Probably it will be higher because numbers are just coming in. Many of the areas we cannot access," Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, told Reuters.
The preliminary number of missing, according to the Red Cross, is 22,000. Pang cautioned that figure could include people who have since been located.
Google, which has set up websites to help people share and look for information about missing persons during catastrophes, currently lists some 65,500 people as missing from the typhoon. The Person Finder website allows anyone to list a person missing and to search the database for names.
But Google staff warned against reading too much into the data, pointing out that a similar website set up after the Japanese tsunami in 2011 listed more than 600,000 names, far higher than the final death toll of nearly 20,000.
More the 670,000 people have been displaced by the storm and many have no access to food, water or medicine, the United Nations said.
Natasha Reyes, emergency coordinator in the Philippines at Médecins Sans Frontières, described the devastation as unprecedented for the disaster-prone archipelago.
U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos, who is in the Philippines, called the scale of destruction "shocking".
Medical workers are treating the injured at evacuation centres in Tacloban for lacerations and other wounds. But many complain of a lack of food and poor hygiene.
Maricel Cruz sat on a bench in a hospital in the city, her decomposing 5-month-old baby in her arms, wrapped in a black jacket. The infant was sick before the typhoon. After the storm, she sought medicine in the hospital. There was none. Her baby, she said, convulsed and died.
"It feels like I'm going crazy since I keep thinking how we can solve our problems. We want to go back home, but we can't even if my baby's starting to smell. We just want to go back," she said on ABS-CBN television.
FOREIGN MEDICAL TEAMS ARRIVE
U.N. officials said getting food, medicine and clean water to the disaster zone were the priorities, along with sanitation and shelter.
The World Health Organisation said teams from Belgium, Japan, Israel and Norway had arrived in the Philippines to set up field hospitals. It said other countries were expected to provide medical teams.
More than 250 U.S. forces were on the ground too, and a senior Marine official told Pentagon reporters he expected that number to grow every day.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington will arrive later this week, carrying about 5,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft. It has been joined by four other U.S. Navy ships.
Rescuers have reached some remote parts of the coast that were previously cut off, such as Guiuan, a city of 40,000 people that suffered massive destruction from high winds but was spared the storm surge that washed over Tacloban. Local officials say 85 people were killed in Guiuan, with 24 missing.
The typhoon also levelled Basey, a seaside town in Samar province about 10 km (6 miles) across a bay from Tacloban. Local officials say 80 people were killed in Basey.
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said the economic damage in the coconut- and rice-growing region would likely shave 1 percentage point off of economic growth in 2014.
The overall financial cost of the destruction was harder to assess. Initial estimates varied widely, with a report from German-based CEDIM Forensic Disaster Analysis putting the total at $8 billion to $19 billion.