Relief operations in this typhoon-devastated region of the Philippines picked up pace Wednesday, but still only minimal amounts of water, food and medical supplies were making it to the hardest-hit areas.

An official says eight people were crushed to death when thousands of typhoon survivors stormed a government rice warehouse

National Food Authority spokesman Rex Estoperez said Wednesday that police and soldiers were helpless when the looting took place in Leyte's Alangalang municipality on Tuesday.

He said the eight were crushed when a wall collapsed. The looters carted away more than 100,000 sacks of rice.

Estoperez says there are other warehouses in the region but refused to say where they are for security reasons.

Aviation authorities said two more airports in the region had reopened, allowing for more aid flights.

International agencies and militaries were also speeding up operations to get staff, supplies and equipment in place for what will be a major humanitarian mission.

The damaged airport on Tacloban, a coastal city of 220,000 almost completely destroyed by Friday's typhoon and coastal surge, has become the major hub for relief work.

A doctor at a makeshift clinic here said supplies of antibiotics and anesthetics arrived Tuesday for the first time.

"Until then, patients had to endure the pain," said Dr. Victoriano Sambale.

The storm displaced at least 580,000 people across the region, in many cases leveling their homes.

Damaged infrastructure and bad communications links made a conclusive death toll difficult to estimate.

The official toll from a national disaster agency rose to 1, 883 on Tuesday. President Benigno Aquino III told CNN in a televised interview that the toll could be closer to 2,000 or 2,500, lower than an earlier estimate from two officials on the ground who said they feared as many as 10,000 might be dead.

"There is a huge amount that we need to do. We have not been able to get into the remote communities," UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said in Manila, launching an appeal for $301 million to help the more than 11 million people estimated to be affected by the storm.

"Even in Tacloban, because of the debris and the difficulties with logistics and so on, we have not been able to get in the level of supply that we would want to. We are going to do as much as we can to bring in more," she said. Her office said she planned to visit the city.

CBC reporter Chris Brown said from the southern city of Cebu, about 200 kilometres from Tacloban, that Cebu will be central to global relief efforts because it escaped the storm relatively unscathed. 

Brown, who saw a large number of transport aircraft as he arrived, visited a university in Cebu where volunteers were packaging thousands of food bags for distribution around the country. 

"A very, very busy place, and scenes like this are being repeated all around the city of Cebu as this country tries to cope with this disaster," he said.

The Canadian government has sent members of its Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to the country. A Canadian Forces C-17 from CFB Trenton left Monday afternoon, carrying between 35 and 50 members of the team and their gear.

An advance team is already in the Philippines assessing how it can best be of help, while the larger DART team is now waiting in Hawaii for further directions on where to deploy.

In addition, about 50 soldiers from the 4 Engineer Support Regiment based at Oromocto, N.B., left Tuesday afternoon for the Philippines. The group specializes in clearing and constructing roads, and building bridges.

The federal government has said it will match every dollar Canadians donate to registered Canadian charities for aid to the Philippines.

The federal government has also promised separate aid money of up to $5 million.

Praveen Agrawal, country director with the United Nations World Food Program, told CBC News Network that an estimated 2.5 million people in the country need immediate food aid, and more than nine million have been affected across a large swath of the country, many of them made homeless.

Ian Trites, a spokesman with Canada's Foreign Affairs Department, said there were 333 Canadians registered in the affected areas. There are no reports yet of Canadian deaths or injuries. 

"We urge Canadian citizens who are in the affected area to contact and reassure their loved ones, even if they have not been affected by this event," Trites said.

Relief efforts at a glance

  • Canada: $5 million; a promise to match donations from Canadians; 35 to 50 members of the Disaster Assistance Response Team 
  • UN: $25 million US  from the UN's emergency relief fund.
  • U.S.: $20 million in immediate aid; USS George Washington on its way; Officials from U.S. Agency for International Develoopment deployed.
  • U.K.: $16 million; Royal Navy warship on its way; Royal Air Force military transport aircraft to be deployed.
  • Australia: $9.4 million
  • UN World Food Program: $2 million; tonnes of high-energy biscuits; help with logistics and emergency communications.
  • UNICEF: Staff repositioned in Philippines; emergency supplies including water purification systems and storage equipment.
  • Japan: $10 million; 25-member relief team.
  • Taiwan: $200,000
  • Israel: Field hospital near disaster area
  • World Vision: Resources to assist 1.2 million, including food, hygiene kits and shelter.
  • International Rescue Committee: $10 million appeal.
  • Doctors Without Borders: Sending additional 50 people; medical and relief supplies on three cargo planes. 

With files from CBC News, Reuters