TACLOBAN, Philippines (AP) — Close your eyes and hold your breath, and you could imagine you are in a normal sports stadium. You hear a ball bouncing and the children's cheers echoing under the cavernous dome.
Open your eyes and you see rain-soaked trash littering almost every inch of the ground and exhausted refugees sprawled across seats. A sign taped on the wall next to a small, dank room by the stairwell tells people in rough terms not to relieve themselves there. It is clear from the stench that many have ignored this advice.
For the thousands of people jamming the Tacloban City Astrodome, the great hall with a solid roof was a heaven-sent refuge when Typhoon Haiyan rammed the eastern Philippines last week. Evacuated from their homes along the coast in time, they had a place to hide from the furious winds and gigantic water surge. But along with shelter, their constant companions now are misery and hunger.
It's been six days since the typhoon struck but no aid has arrived at the Astrodome. Not a single relief worker is in sight.
"What can we do? There's nothing we can do!" said Corazon Cecleno, a volunteer with the village council who had handed out food stamps to the occupants — stamps for food that has yet to arrive. "We really want to know why the distribution of help is so slow."
The people staying here find water wherever they can — from a broken water pipe on the side of the road, from a tarp in a former office building nearby. The water tastes bad — salty — but there is nothing else available and they are desperate.
Just as New Orleans residents took refuge in the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina, thousands of Filipinos are squatting here: inside the stadium, in the ruined shops and restaurants that line it, and under tarpaulins on the grass outside.
Maria Consuelo Martinez, 38, is nine months pregnant and jammed in an abandoned restaurant at the dome along with five families. Her naked 2-year-old son, Mark, sits next to her on a piece of plywood. She has only one outfit for him, and it is drying after a wash. Her 5-year-old daughter, Maria, stares vacantly. Sodden laundry hangs from ropes crisscrossing the room. Flies are everywhere and the tiled floor is slick with filth.
Her husband wanders around, begging for food. Some friends found sacks of ocean-soaked rice at a warehouse and gave the family one. They are drying the grains in the sun on a blue tarp, hoping it will be edible, knowing it will be salty. They have a bottle of well water to cook and wash with, but it tastes like the ocean and they aren't convinced it's safe. They drink it anyway.
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