‘Worse than hell’ in typhoon-ravaged Philippines
TACLOBAN, Philippines — No food. No water. Houses and buildings torn to pieces. Bodies scattered on the streets. Hospitals overrun with patients. Medical supplies running out.
As Typhoon Haiyan barreled across the South China Sea on Sunday, getting set to bring more destruction to Vietnam, many Filipinos grappled with devastation on a level they’d never seen before.
The Philippine Red Cross estimated at least 1,200 people were killed by Haiyan, but the full death toll could be significantly higher as officials make their way to remote, nearly inaccessible places pummeled by the storm.
Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez told CNN it is “entirely possible” that 10,000 people may have died in the storm in Leyte province.
“People here were convinced that it looked like a tsunami,” Romualdez told CNN.
“I have not spoken to anyone who has not lost someone, a relative close to them. We are looking for as many as we can,” he said.
‘This is really, really bad, worse than hell’
Carrying all they could from their devastated lives, a steady stream of typhoon victims kept arriving at Tacloban airport, looking for food, water and escape.
Magina Fernandez is among them. She lost her home and business. And she is desperate to leave on the next military plane.
She made an anguished plea for help.
“Get international help to come here now — not tomorrow, now,” she said. “This is really, really like bad, bad, worse than hell, worse than hell.”
She directed some of her anger at Philippines President Benigno Aquino III, who on Sunday toured some of the areas hardest hit by the typhoon, including Tacloban.
Many of the people in the city, population 200,000, are angry at the authorities’ slow response to the disaster.
Aquino told CNN’s Paula Hancocks that there was a breakdown, especially at the local government level.
“They are necessary first responders, and too many of them were also affected and did not report for work,” he explained, saying that contributed to the slow delivery.
Aquino said the government will coordinate with the local units and put more people to work.
Complicating the search efforts is the lack of electricity in many parts of the storm’s path.
The northern part of Bogo, in the central Philippines, suffered a blackout Sunday, and authorities said it will take months to restore power.
Children among the most affected victims
As the full impact of the typhoon is assessed, children are expected to be among the most affected.
Some 1.7 million children are believed to be living in the areas in the typhoon’s path, according to UNICEF.
“UNICEF’s first priorities are focused on life-saving interventions — getting essential medicines, nutrition supplies, safe water and hygiene supplies to children and families,” said UNICEF’s representative in the Philippines, Tomoo Hozumi, in a statement.
“This is not the first natural disaster to strike the Philippines recently, following the earthquake in Bohol three weeks ago, so we know how vital it is to reach children quickly.”
Devastation leads to desperation
It wasn’t the storm’s 250-kph (155-mph) gusts that caused most of the damage — it was a mammoth storm surge that reached up to 5 meters (16 feet) high.
Nearly half a million people were forced out of their homes, and now thousands have no homes to return to, the National Risk Reduction and Management Council said.
In Tacloban, the increasingly desperate search for food and water has led to looting. National police and the military sent reinforcements to the coastal city Sunday to prevent such thefts. News video showed people breaking into grocery stores and cash machines in the city, where there had been little evidence of authority since midday Friday.
Another desperate scene played out in the city’s only functioning hospital. Doctors couldn’t admit any more wounded victims — there wasn’t enough room. Some of the injured lay in the hospital’s cramped hallways seeking treatment.
“We haven’t anything left to help people with,” one of the doctors said. “We have to get supplies in immediately.”
Aid groups struggle to reach those suffering
The Philippine Red Cross succeeded in getting its assessment team into Tacloban, but had not managed to get its main team of aid workers and equipment to the city, said its chairman, Richard Gordon.
“We really are having access problems,” he said.
The city’s airport was shut to commercial flights, and it would be three days before a land route was open, so organizers were considering chartering a boat for the trip, which will take 1½ to 2 days, he said. “It really is an awful, awful situation.”
World Food Programme spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said the U.N. group was gearing up its global resources to send enough food to feed 120,000 people.
“These high-energy biscuits will keep them alive,” she said.
She noted that much of the country’s infrastructure — roads, bridges, airports, ports — may have been destroyed or damaged and that the government could use help with logistics.
Most of Cebu province couldn’t be contacted by landlines, cell phones or radio, Dennis Chiong, operations officer for the province’s disaster risk and emergency management, said Saturday.
One inaccessible town, Daanbantayan, has more than 3,000 residents who “badly need food, water and shelter because most of the houses there are damaged due to the storm,” Chiong said.
In the town of Santa Fe in Cebu province, officials could not determine the number of fatalities because roads were washed out and phone services down.
Luescher pleaded for financial support from the international community and directed those wishing to donate to wfp.org/typhoon.
“Those are families like you and me, and they just need our help right now,” she said.
The destruction across the islands was catastrophic and widespread. For a time, storm clouds covered the entire Philippines, stretching 1,120 miles (1800 kilometers) — the distance between Florida and Canada — and tropical storm-force winds covered an area the size of Germany.
Veteran storm chaser James Reynolds said Haiyan was “without a doubt the most catastrophic event I’ve witnessed before my eyes.”
“During the height of the storm, the scream of the wind was deafening,” said Reynolds, who hunkered down in a solidly built hotel.
“We could hear just thunderous crashes of debris flying through the air. At some points, you could feel the whole hotel, which was made of solid concrete, shaking.”
Vietnam braces for hit
The massive losses in the Philippines have put much of Vietnam on edge. The Vietnam Red Cross said it had helped authorities evacuate 100,000 people, including elderly residents and orphans, as the typhoon neared.
Midday Sunday, Haiyan was plowing through the South China Sea with sustained winds of 160 kph (100 mph) and gusts of 195 kph (120 mph). It was expected to slam into Vietnam by Monday morning.
By that time, the typhoon could weaken to a tropical storm. But it’s still expected to cause heavy rain and flooding in Hanoi, the Red Cross said. Forecasters predicted up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) of rain for parts of northern Vietnam near the border with China by Monday night.
With the latest projected storm path, the designated disaster area could grow from nine provinces to 15, the Vietnam Red Cross said.
An enormous blow
Haiyan may be the strongest tropical cyclone in recorded history, but meteorologists said it will take further analysis to confirm whether it set a record.
The typhoon was 3.5 times more forceful than Hurricane Katrina, which hit the United States 2005.
But Haiyan’s wrath has caused much more than tremendous loss of life and epic destruction — it’s also ruined the livelihoods of many survivors.
“This disaster on such a scale will probably have us working for the next year,” said Sandra Bulling, international communications officer for the aid agency CARE. “Fishermen have lost their boats. Crops are devastated. This is really the basic income of many people.”