Not business as usual, but the bar's open in storm-ravaged Tacloban

Reuters
Typhoon-ravaged Philippine islands
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Ducks swim past damaged houses and trees at typhoon-ravaged Tolosa town, Leyte province, central Philippines Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. One month since Typhoon Haiyan, signs of progress in this shattered Philippine city are mixed with reminders of the scale of the disaster and the challenges ahead. Tens of thousands are living amid the ruins of their former lives, underneath shelters made from scavenged materials and handouts. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

TACLOBAN, Philippines (Reuters) - Once he had got hold of 20 cases of San Miguel beer, Gerry Ruiz knew he had enough supplies to start serving customers again.

The Calle Zaragosa Cafe appears to be the first standalone restaurant or bar to have opened in Tacloban since one of the world's most powerful typhoons reduced much of the central Philippine city to rubble two weeks ago.

The storm killed 5,209 people, the National Disaster Agency said on Friday, as it barreled across the central Philippines from east to west, making it the most deadly natural disaster ever to hit the country.

"It's not for profit, but more of trying to have a sense of normalcy, giving inspiration to others so we can move on," cafe owner Ruiz said.

"Everywhere I go is so depressing. There is a need to meet friends, share stories and talk about who died. And they have nowhere to go, unwind and talk about these matters."

Ruiz, a former TV executive, posted a notice on Facebook and texted his friends and by Friday afternoon word that a restaurant had opened was circulating around city hall.

Officials from the military, police and the central government were among those that dropped in for a drink or a bite to eat on Friday.

It is far from business as usual. A large mound of debris obstructs the front entrance and a main dining area is being rented out to a media agency so customers are served on an outside patio partially covered by tarpaulin.

The restaurant is also offering about a third of its normal menu due to limited supplies.

But Ruiz said he was able to order enough meat for two weeks after getting his hands on a freezer. For the beer, he sounded warehouses of San Miguel, a local beer, before "striking gold" by finding a dealer with ample stock.

The 20 cases gave him the breathing room to open his doors.

"I was thinking this way - I can sell beer for the first two nights," he said. "But if on the third night I run out of stock, people are going to kill me."

(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Nick Macfie and Ron Popeski)

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