The city of Palo on Leyte Island bore the full brunt of Typhoon Haiyan. Screenshot from a video taken by Richard Dominic Dumas Navarro.
Four days after the strongest typhoon in recorded history wreaked havoc on the Philippines, government relief efforts are still lagging behind and many of the survivors are struggling to fend for themselves.
Typhoon Haiyan, which swept across the Philippines last Friday, has left the worst-hit regions looking like post-apocalyptic landscapes. It’s thought to have left as many as 12,000 people dead, causing $14 billion worth of damage. Corpses lie strewn amongst the ruins of towns and cities, while looters take whatever they can.
In the city of Tacloban, on Leyte Island, wind speeds reached as much as 378 kilometres per hour. Eyewitnesses told 'Le Monde' newspaper that waves up to five metres high knocked down buildings with the force of a tsunami. Since then, the city has been racked by looting, both by hungry residents looking for food and thieves out to make the most of the breakdown in public order. The government has sent the army to bring the situation back under control.
Tacloban, on Leyte Island.
Humanitarian aid workers are also facing huge obstacles in bringing relief to the survivors. The US army has sent its Marines to help with the rescue efforts, while the World Food Programme is flying in 44 tonnes of high-calorie biscuits to the worst-affected areas. But the main roads are still blocked by piles of debris, and there are concerns that the risk of corruption could complicate aid distribution efforts. Despite that, humanitarian aid agencies hope that the coordinated response to Typhoon Haiyan will be better than the one mounted in response to the 2004 Asian tsunami.
“Residents have gone straight to work, clearing the roads and rebuilding their wooden homes”
Brother Marie-Etienne is a prior in the Saint-Jean community of Cebu.
We went to the northern area of Cebu Island yesterday, in the city of Medellin, which was hit hard by the typhoon. Few died there, the damage is mostly physical. Roughly 90% of the buildings there were destroyed. There is no more electricity, and food and water is scarce.We left with some young people from our community. There were about twenty of us. We brought food, water, and medicine that had initially been earmarked for the survivors of last month’s earthquake. When we got to Medellin, the local authorities sent us to two of the poorest neighbourhoods. We went from house to house to distribute goods.I was very impressed by the attitude of the residents. They’re keeping their spirits up. They went straight to work, clearing the roads and rebuilding their wooden homes. At this point in time, they can only really count on themselves.On Sunday morning, we were the first on the scene to provide aid. Then we saw others come with trucks, with more food than we had. When we left, we went back to city hall, where aid logistics were being worked out. Aid supplies were being gathered there and then distributed. I think they came mainly from companies and individuals. Apart from the government’s water trucks that came to distribute water, we didn’t see much distribution on behalf of the government.
“The NPA militias are blocking the bridge to ransom aid trucks”
Dominique Lemay runs a children’s foundation, Virlanie, in Makati, a suburb of Manila.
This morning, I was able to contact some of the families we’ve been helping in Tacloban, on Leyte Island. After the typhoon, one of the families left on foot to take refuge further south. They told me that they marched like zombies through an apocalyptic landscape: corpses, stores looted by starving people, fights breaking out over scarce food supplies.Aerial view of Tacloban.Some emergency centres are poorly organised and have been completely overwhelmed. In the Philippines, typhoons are very frequent, but nobody expected this one to be so strong.Three days after the catastrophe, aid has started to trickle in. The large Filipino news networks have launched appeals for help that seem to be paying off. But the main problem now is that of access. There are large swathes of Leyte and Samar islands that are completely inaccessible.The Tacloban airport was destroyed, to the point that food aid must be trucked in over the bridge that links Luçon [Editor’s note: this island on which Manila is situated] to Samar. But according to the media, the NPA (New People’s Army) militias have blocked the bridge in order to ransom food trucks [Editor’s note: the NPA communist rebels frequently carry out violent attacks. On October 23 of this year, they carried out an ambush that killed nine Filipino soldiers].There is also a risk that some of the aid will be diverted to other areas. Corruption is endemic in the Philippines. It’s likely that neighbourhood officers or deputies will take part of the funds to redistribute within their districts, in order to whip up more support in time for election season.
Post written in collaboration with FRANCE 24 journalist François-Damien Bourgery (@FDBourgery).