TACLOBAN, Philippines -- Soldiers sat atop trucks distributing rice and water on Thursday in this typhoon-devastated city and chainsaw- wielding teams cut debris from blocked roads, small signs that a promised aid effort is beginning to pick up pace even as thousands flocked the airport, desperate to leave.
The first C-130 transport planes arrived at 3 a.m. at Tacloban airport, the first nighttime flight since the typhoon struck on Friday, suggesting air control systems are now in place for a 24-7 operation -- a prerequisite for the massive relief operation needed.
Food, water and medical supplies from the U.S., Malaysia and Singapore sat on pallets along the tarmac.
Military officials were among the thousands waiting outside the airport trying to get their families out.
"My family has nothing to eat, and we have no place to stay," said Sgt. William Escala. We cannot bear the stench. The kids are getting sick."
While the cogs of what promises to be a massive international aid effort are beginning to turn, it is still not quick enough for the 600,000 people displaced, many of them homeless, hungry and thirsty, their livelihoods destroyed.
Much of the aid -- and the staff needed to distribute it -- is stuck in Manila and the nearby airport of Cebu, a 45-minute flight away.
Some among the desperate residents have resorted to raiding for food. Mobs overran a rice warehouse on Leyte, collapsing a wall that killed eight people. Thousands of sacks of the grain were carted off. But police say the situation is improving on the ground.
The death toll rose to 2,357, according a national tally kept by the disaster agency. That figure is expected to rise, perhaps significantly, when accurate information is collected from the whole disaster zone, which spreads over a wide swath of the eastern and central Philippines but appears to be concentrated on two main islands -- Leyte and Samar.
Gegham Petrosyan, from International Committee of the Red Cross, said destruction along the south cost of Samar island had been "massive."
"People are desperate for life-saving aid," Petrosyan said. "However, logistical and security constraints continue to hamper the distribution of desperately needed relief."