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Over 100 prisoners missing as Philippine typhoon zone criminals swim out

Prisoners look past a sign showing the number of inmates still missing at the Tacloban Jail on November 19, in Leyte, Philippines.
Prisoners look past a sign showing the number of inmates still missing at the Tacloban Jail on November 19, in Leyte, Philippines.Chris Mcgrath / Getty Images

TACLOBAN, Philippines — It's 103 and counting - that's the number of prisoners on the loose after escaping Tacloban City Jail when a super typhoon devastated the central Philippines, flooded the prison and smashed open the main gate.

The prisoners had been freed from their cells so that they could seek higher ground, but while some rode the water to the safety of the warden's second floor office, others followed the water out the front door.

"They swam through," the jail's warden, Joseph Nunez, said as he pointed to the palm of his hand onto which he had jotted down his challenge: 676 inmates before the typhoon hit, 559 at present and 117 at large.

"We are still missing 117."

That number had come down to 103 by late Tuesday as some inmates turned themselves in and a team of correction officers, armed with M-16 rifles and 9 mm handguns, hunted down a handful of others on the streets.

The prison houses inmates charged with offences from burglary and drug dealing to violent crimes such as rape and murder.

Nunez acknowledged that some of the fugitives could be dangerous, adding to the sense of unease faced by Tacloban residents, although overall security has improved over the past few days as food and other aid has flowed in.

Nunez said he had issued no shoot-to-kill orders and would not penalize prisoners who returned of their own accord. He said many inmates had fled to help their families survive the storm.

Joey Gerona Taborada was one inmate who turned himself in on Tuesday, returning to Cell 8 which he shared with 20 other prisoners.

The 35-year-old said he decided to go back after ensuring the safety of his family and repairing his house. He said he never once thought of running, even though he had been held for eight years on a drug charge without conviction.

"It was very difficult to leave my family, especially my child," he said, referring to his eight-year old son. But, he added, "I don't want to be a fugitive for my whole life."