Remains in body bags are piled in a lot in Tacloban. EDD GUMBAN


TACLOBAN CITY, NOVEMBER 13, 2013 (PHILSTAR) Decomposing bodies still line the roads, one wearing a pink, short-sleeve shirt and blue shorts lying face down in a black, muddy puddle 100 yards from the airport. Further on down is a church that was supposed to be an evacuation center but is now littered with the bodies of those who drowned inside.

Miriam Refugio, 60, among the thousands of survivors, swarmed the airport seeking a flight out of the corpse-choked wasteland.

“Our home was destroyed, there is no food in this town, so we have to flee,” she said, standing with her teenage granddaughter, waiting for a chance to get on a flight to Manila.

Just after dawn yesterday, two Philippine Air Force C-130s arrived at its destroyed airport along with several commercial and private flights.

More than 3,000 people who camped out at the building surged onto the tarmac past a broken iron fence to get on the aircraft. Just a dozen soldiers and several police held them back.

Mothers raised their babies high above their heads in the rain, in hopes of being prioritized. One woman in her 30s lay on a stretcher, shaking uncontrollably. Only a small number managed to board.

“I was pleading with the soldiers. I was kneeling and begging because I have diabetes,” said Helen Cordial, whose house was destroyed in the storm.

“Do they want me to die in this airport? They are stone hearted.”

At least a dozen US and Philippine military cargo planes have arrived since Monday, with the Philippine Air Force saying it had flown in about 60,000 kilograms of relief supplies since Saturday. But the demand is huge and the supplies aren’t reaching those who need it most.

“People are roaming around the city, looking for food and water,” said Christopher Pedrosa, a government aid worker.

Aid trucks from the airport struggle to enter the city because of the stream of people and vehicles leaving it. On motorbikes, trucks or by foot, people clog the road to the airport, clutching scarves to their faces to blot out the dust and stench of bodies.

Joselito Caimoy, a 42-year-old truck driver, was one of the lucky ones at Tacloban airport. He was able to get his wife, son and three-year-old daughter on a flight out. They embraced in a tearful goodbye, but Caimoy stayed behind to guard what’s left of his home and property.

“There is no water, no food,” he said. “People are just scavenging in the streets. People are asking food from relatives, friends. The devastation is too much... the malls, the grocery stories have all been looted. They’re empty. People are hungry. And they (the authorities) cannot control the people.”

Bare shelves

As a violet sunset melted on Monday evening into the nearly total darkness of a city without electricity, lighted only by a waxing half-moon, some dispirited residents walked home. Others lay down in the ruins of the airport terminal after another day of waiting in hope of fresh water, food or a flight out.

Most residents spent the night under pouring rain wherever they could – in the ruins of destroyed houses, in the open along roadsides and shredded trees. Some slept under tents brought in by the government or relief groups.

Others resorted to looting grocery stores and pharmacies across the city, leaving bare shelves for a population quickly growing hungry and thirsty.

In Ormoc City, also in Leyte, residents are getting desperate for food and supplies and there are reports that some have started eating stray dogs.

Desperate residents in Tacloban stripped malls, shops and homes of food, water and consumer goods. Officials said some of the looting smacked of desperation but in other cases people hauled away TVs, refrigerators, Christmas trees and even a treadmill.

Also cleared out is a bottling factory for beer and soft drinks. In some areas, Coca-Cola was handed out free while drinking water was impossible to find. Officials were warning residents not to drink water from wells, which were likely polluted.

Some police special forces and soldiers were sent to guard against further chaos.

Soldiers have resorted to firing warning shots into the air to stop people stealing fuel from a petrol station.

But there is another reason the looting had abated.

“There is nothing left to loot,” remarked Pedrosa.

Caught unprepared

When a wind-whipped ocean rose Friday night, the ground floors of homes hundreds of yards inland were submerged within minutes, trapping residents like Virginia Basinang, a 54-year-old retired teacher, who suddenly found herself struggling in waist-deep water on the second floor of her home.

Screaming people bobbed in the water that surged through the streets, many grabbing for floating debris.

“Some of them were able to hold on, some were lucky and lived, but most did not,” she said, adding that 14 bodies were left on a wall across the street when the seawater receded a half-hour later. The bodies are still there, and the odor of their decay makes it impossible for Basinang and her family to eat meals at home.

Authorities said they had evacuated 800,000 people ahead of the typhoon, but many evacuation centers proved to be no protection against the strong winds and storm surges.

The Philippine Red Cross, responsible for warning the region and giving advice, said people were not prepared for a storm surge.

“Imagine America, which was prepared and very rich, still had a lot of challenges at the time of Hurricane Katrina, but what we had was three times more than what they received,” said Gwendolyn Pang, Red Cross executive director.

Tacloban City councilor and former actress Ma. Christina Gonzales-Romualdez said nobody in the city was prepared to deal with storm surges.

She said her family retreated to a guest house located further from the sea that had a second floor as authorities warned of storm surges while her husband, Mayor Alfredo Romualdez, was in a nearby family resort inspecting the area as residents there reported that the waters had receded.

But the seawater came rushing back, she said.

Romualdez said she and her children had to cling to the trusses of the ceiling of their house for some two hours as the wind blew away the roof.

She said she saw Alfred after the waters receded and found out that he also clung to the beams of the ceiling in the house closer to the beach.

Gonzales said her family had nothing but their clothes when they walked downtown and some residents and friends gave them a change of clothes.

The mayor was given a pair of shorts and after wearing it, a resident who gave it to him remarked: “Galing din yan sa loot (that was part of the loot).”

Doomed dome

Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), among the most powerful in history, slammed into Tacloban on Friday and cut a path of devastation barreling west across the archipelago nation.

In its wake, corpses lay along roads lined with splintered homes and toppled power lines, as the living struggled to survive, increasingly desperate for fresh drinking water, food and shelter.

The damage to everything is so great that it is hard even to tally. Mass graves began to fill as relief efforts struggled to get underway.

The roads of this once-thriving city of 220,000 were so clogged with debris from nearby buildings that they were barely discernible. The civilian airport terminal has shattered walls and gaping holes in the roof where steel beams protrude, twisted and torn by winds far more powerful than those of Hurricane Katrina when it made landfall near New Orleans in 2005.

Even by the standards of the Philippines, however, Yolanda was an especially large catastrophe.

One of the saddest and deadliest moments came when hundreds of people flocked to Tacloban’s domed sports arena at the urging of local officials, who believed its sturdy roof would withstand the wind. The roof did, but the arena flooded, and many inside drowned or were trampled in a frenzied rush to higher seats.

The top civil defense official said in an interview after inspecting the damage that the storm surge had been the highest in the country’s modern history. Nothing like this had ever happened, perhaps explaining why so few thought they needed to flee inland and instead went to evacuation centers near the coast.

The sea level rose up to four meters and filled streets and homes deep in the city, propelled by sustained winds of at least 225 kilometers per hour and gusts that were much stronger.

“It was a tsunami-like storm surge; it is the first time,” said Eduardo del Rosario, the executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

Del Rosario said the government was still sending out helicopters on Monday to look for communities that had not been heard from since the typhoon.

The government confirmed 1,774 deaths yesterday, and the death toll would “most likely” rise, he said.

Sucked out

Tacloban has been hit by typhoons for decades, but never had the sea risen high enough to pour over the swath of low salt marshes and inundate the city’s shady streets, Del Rosario said.

Tacloban was among the hardest hit in a nation accustomed to misery blown in from the sea. But this storm was like nothing before it, and its devastation was not yet fully understood. Villages along the coasts may have been wiped out, and the toll – at least 10,000 in Tacloban alone are feared dead – was just an estimate.

Relief efforts were complicated by a persistent and heavy rain.

But one of the biggest questions here involves the many people who seem to have disappeared, possibly sucked out to sea when the ocean returned to its usual level.

Rosemary Balais, 39, said a very large proportion, possibly more than half, of the 5,000 people in her hometown, Tanauan, near Tacloban, seemed to be missing.– AP, Jaime Laude, Lalaine Jimenea, Jess Diaz, Danny Dangcalan, Ric Sapnu, Aie Balagtas-See,


Man, nature share blame for Philippine tragedy Associated Press
12:46 am | Wednesday, November 13th, 2013


WASHINGTON—Nature and man together cooked up the disaster in the Philippines.

Geography, meteorology, poverty, shoddy construction, a booming population and, to a much lesser degree, climate change combine to make the Philippines the nation most vulnerable to killer typhoons, according to several scientific studies.

And Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) was one mighty storm.

Yolanda slammed the island nation with a storm surge two stories high and some of the highest winds ever measured in a tropical cyclone—314 kilometers per hour as clocked by US satellites, or 237 kph based on local reports.

“You have a very intense event hitting a very susceptible part of the world. It’s that combination of nature and man,” said tropical meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“If one of those ingredients were missing, you wouldn’t have a disaster.”

Storm-prone region

The 7,000 islands of the Philippines sit in the middle of the world’s most storm-prone region, which gets some of the biggest typhoons because of vast expanses of warm water that act as fuel and few pieces of land to slow storms down.

Half the storms on an informal list of the strongest ones to hit land in the 20th and 21st centuries ended up striking the Philippines, according to research by Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the Weather Underground.

Storms often hit after they’ve peaked in strength or before they get a chance to, but Yolanda struck when it was at its most powerful, based on US satellite observations, Emanuel said.

Human factor

Humans played a big role in this disaster, too—probably bigger than nature’s, meteorologists said.

University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy figures that 75 to 80 percent of the devastation can be blamed on the human factor.

Meteorologists point to extreme poverty and huge growth in population—much of it in vulnerable coastal areas with poor construction, including storm shelters that didn’t hold up against Yolanda.

The population of the devastated provincial capital of Tacloban City nearly tripled from about 76,000 to 221,000 in just 40 years.

Flimsy houses

About one-third of Tacloban’s homes have wooden exterior walls. And one in seven homes have grass roofs, according to the census office.

Those factors—especially flimsy construction—were so important that a weaker storm would have still caused almost as much devastation, McNoldy said.

“You end up with this kind of urban time bombs, where cities have doubled, tripled, quadrupled in size in 50 years” without good building standards, said Richard Olson, director of the Extreme Events Institute at Florida International University. “It is, I hate to say, an all-too-familiar pattern.”

Scientists say man-made global warming has contributed to rising seas and a general increase in strength in the most powerful tropical cyclones.

But they won’t specifically apply these factors to Yolanda, saying it is impossible to attribute single weather events, like the typhoon, to climate change.

A 2008 study found that in the northwestern Pacific, where Yolanda formed, the top 1 percent of the strongest tropical cyclones over the past 30 years are getting stronger each year—a phenomenon some scientists suspect is a consequence of global warming.

“The strongest storms are getting stronger” said study coauthor James Kossin of the National Climatic Data Center. Yolanda “is what potentially could be a good example of the kind of the things we’re finding.”

Philippines has it all

Similarly, the Philippines has seen its sea rise nearly half an inch in the past 20 years—about triple the global increase, according to R. Steven Nerem of the University of Colorado. Higher sea levels can add to storm surge, creating slightly greater flooding.

Just as human factors can worsen a disaster, they can also lessen it, through stronger buildings, better warnings and a quicker government response.

Emanuel said poverty-stricken Bangladesh had much bigger losses of life from cyclones in the 1970s than it does now. The international community built strong evacuation shelters that get used frequently, he said.

“The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone places on Earth,” said Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado.

“They’ve got it all. They’ve got earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tropical cyclones, landslides.”

Mad rush out of Tacloban Thousands foiled in bid to leave devastated city By Nikko Dizon Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:30 am | Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

LEAVING LEYTE. A soldier holds a little girl who has been cleared to board one of the evacuation flights out of Tacloban City on Tuesday. AP

TACLOBAN CITY—Thousands of typhoon survivors swarmed the airport here on Tuesday, seeking a flight out, but only a few hundred made it, leaving behind a shattered city short of food and water and littered with bodies.

As two Philippine Air Force C-130s arrived just after dawn at the destroyed Daniel Romualdez Airport, more than 3,000 people surged to the tarmac past a broken iron fence to try and get on the aircraft, but soldiers and policemen held them back.

Mothers raised their babies high above their heads in the rain in hopes of getting aboard. One woman in her 30s lay on a stretcher, shaking uncontrollably.

Only a few managed to board.

“I was pleading with the soldiers. I was kneeling and begging because I have diabetes,” said Helen Cordial, whose house was destroyed during the typhoon. “Do they want me to die in this airport? They have hearts of stone.”

A second stampede occurred Tuesday afternoon when people rushed to a US Air Force C-130 to try and get out of the city. But they were driven back by the police.

‘Back to primitive age’

“This is a wake-up call for us,” Supt. Rafel Doron, chief of the Bureau of Fire Protection Service in Southern Leyte, said after seeing the destruction caused by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” around the city of 220,000 people.

Doron said his team’s efforts to help city residents were not enough, given the magnitude of the destruction that befell Tacloban and other badly hit places in Eastern Samar.

Money seemed to have no value in the city—people would rather have food, water, electricity and means of communication.

“The city has been thrown back to the primitive age,” Doron said.

Sleeping in the rain

Most of the residents had spent the night under pouring rain wherever they could—in the ruins of destroyed houses and along roadsides and fallen trees.

Some slept in tents brought by relief groups.

Tacloban bore the full force of Yolanda’s winds and tsunami-like storm surges.

Most of the city is in ruins, a tangled mess of destroyed houses, cars and trees. Malls, garages and shops have all been stripped of food and water by hungry residents.

Doron and his crew navigated the roads littered with debris to get to the city convention center to deliver potable water, a luxury to residents.

Bodies lay on the side of a road—a sight that shocked first responders, like Doron.

Doron’s team has been working nonstop, cleaning up roads and delivering water since Sunday. They arrived on Saturday night from Maasin town.

Some residents waited near the airport during Tuesday’s intermittent rains. Most were impatient, at times getting unruly at the gates.

Tired Air Force pilots told people scrambling to get on a flight out of the city to try a Navy ship that could accommodate up to 2,000 people and bring them to Cebu province.

But his appeal apparently went unheeded.

Clash with rebels

Other problems bedeviled the authorities.

On Tuesday, soldiers clashed with about 15 suspected communist rebels who had attacked an aid convoy en route to Tacloban and killed two of them, the military said.

“There were no casualties on the government side,” Lt. Col. Joselito Kakilala said, adding one of the attackers was wounded.

The encounter occurred in Sorsogon’s Matnog town, 240 kilometers from Tacloban. Some of the relief goods were taken by the attackers.

Loved ones first

Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez said the exodus of some residents could be attributed to the decision of heads of families to move their loved ones to safety so they could focus on rebuilding their lives.

“It’s normal for every father to want his family out,” Romualdez said. “You have to take care of your loved ones first. You can’t work because you’re thinking of their safety.”

Nearly five days after Yolanda struck, residents had begun cleaning up roads and collecting bodies lying in the streets.
The stench of death was overpowering.

On a road leading to the airport, more than 20 bodies of men, women, and children—already black and bloated—were lying around.

Most were covered with galvanized sheets while others were wrapped in blankets.

‘We will die here’

It was the same scene downtown.

A huge signboard on a road with a handwritten appeal in Filipino read: “Please pick up the dead. We are going to die here. There are 40 bodies in St. Peter’s (funeral parlor).”

Construction worker Joey Talisay, 27, said his wife and three children, the youngest of whom was 9 months old, drowned in the storm surge. Their bodies were still at the elementary school some 2 kilometers away from the airport.

Talisay’s two other children survived while another two were missing.

“We don’t have food here,” Talisay said.

He and his friends were staying at a place near the elementary school, which had served as evacuation center before the typhoon struck.

Body bags

Romualdez said people were still coming out of “shock from the supertyphoon” and “should be given some slack” when they complained of lack of food and water.

“Of course, they are thinking of what they would eat, not only today, but also for the rest of the week,” he said.

Romualdez said the local government was working to collect the bodies. He said more than 1,000 body bags had arrived from the health department in Manila.

About 70 bodies recovered on Tuesday were sent to the Philippine National Police office for identification. If they remain unclaimed, they will be buried in mass graves.

Follow the stench

Romualdez said more cadavers lay in the debris of collapsed structures. “We just follow the stench to get to where they are,” he said.

The mayor said order was returning little by little to the city, with more than 100 troops now deployed.

He said he wanted to thank Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas for sending additional forces when looting became a problem.

Still, some had taken advantage of the calamity and ransacked stores and houses.

Curfew imposed

A curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. has been imposed in the city. Romualdez said the city was “slowly getting back to having peace and order.”

He also stressed the urgency for telecommunications companies to restore operations to allow for the flow of information, which the people needed after being isolated for nearly a week now.

Communications restored in Tacloban City

The mayor urged gas stations and stores to start cleaning up and reopen.

“The worst is over,” Romualdez said. “We were knocked down like Manny Pacquiao, but we will build our city again. We will survive.”—With reports from AP and AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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