‘They’re Walking Because There’s Nothing Else’: Dazed Survivors Struggle in Haiyan’s Wake

Devastated infrastructure and nonexistent communications mean that the full extent of the catastrophe is still not known

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Aaron Favila / AP

Survivors look up at a military C-130 plane as it arrives at typhoon-ravaged Tacloban city, Leyte province in central Philippines on Nov. 11, 2013.

An international relief effort is under way, three days after Supertyphoon Haiyan — the strongest recorded storm to make landfall anywhere on earth — tore through the central Philippines with 200-m.p.h. blasts of winds and massive storm surges. But government and aid agencies are hampered by devastated infrastructure and patchy communications, leaving them struggling to get aid to where it’s needed.

Cecil Laguardia, a spokeswoman for the aid organization World Vision, told TIME that one of the agency’s damage-assessment teams had traveled for a full day by boat, then car and then by foot to reach the city of Tacloban — capital of hard hit Leyte province — only to find it “almost totally flattened.” The same team is currently traversing torn-up roads to neighboring towns, because nonexistent communications mean that visual inspections are the only way to form a picture of the disaster.

(WATCH: This Filipino Climate Negotiator Warned Us Last Year and We Ignored Him)

What little is known suggests that a grave humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Leyte. Supertyphoon Haiyan, which is known as Yolanda in the Philippines, is believed to have left around 10,000 dead in the province, with another 500 dead and 2,000 missing in the provinces of Samar and Eastern Samar. The final toll “might even go higher,” Laguardia says.

The survivors are facing appalling hardship. Only one hospital is functioning in Tacloban, but it has just 250 beds. Medicines are in short supply and exhausted staff are in urgent need of relief. Medical teams from Singapore, Germany and Norway are expected to arrive so that shattered local medics can go to what remains of their homes and look after, or search for, their loved ones.

Food is desperately scarce. “I’ve never in my 17 years of work seen people so desperate to get food,” said Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross. She said that incidents of looting had broken out in Tacloban but had not affected Red Cross shipments.

(MORE: The Philippines Is the Most Storm-Exposed Country on Earth)

Laguardia echoed her concerns. “The majority of people are saying they urgently need food, water and emergency kits.” With communications down, many survivors have to walk or motorcycle for hours along near impassable roads to alert the outside world to their plight. The mayor of Giporlos, a town of 12,000 people in Eastern Samar, rode a motorbike for eight hours to Tacloban — normally a 90-minute journey — to report that his town had been totally destroyed.

All over Leyte, the same nightmare is being repeated. “You’re hearing a lot about Tacloban,” UNICEF’s regional communication adviser Christopher de Bono says. “But there are other places that nobody has been able to get into. We are hearing little bits that suggest Ormoc [a city in western Leyte] is every bit as bad as Tacloban.”

De Bono says that one colleague told him they saw “a whole lot of people walking up and down the roads. They were walking because there was nothing else. They had the vacant stares that come from having your home ripped out from under you, and not having answers.”

(MORE: How to Help Typhoon Victims)

The Department of Social Welfare and Development says 9.5 million people have been affected by Haiyan, or over 2 million families. De Bono fears for the children. “At a minimum, there are hundreds of thousands of kids who need our help,” he says, adding that the number could easily be in the millions. “They need water, sanitation, shelter, food and medicine.”

International aid is ramping up. The U.S. military has already arrived in Tacloban with rescue teams and cargo planes, and a U.N. Disaster Assessment Coordination team is also on the scene. Médecins Sans Frontières is sending 200 tons of medical supplies and equipment. The E.U., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand have also pledged assistance. But for all those involved in the relief effort, the overwhelming sense is of a task that has barely begun.

With reporting by Emily Rauhala

48 comments
nyshim
nyshim

praying for the safety of those who are delivering relief goods.

Hayle Nguyen
Hayle Nguyen

Sending prayers to all the victims and families. Hope all the necessary supplies will be there soon.

Tammy Truong
Tammy Truong

In time of need, you know who are your good neighbours. The west have been immediate open hearted. Where is the nearby wanna Gs countries? Japan, China, Singapore? Food, shelter and medicine.

RommAlbertRafael
RommAlbertRafael

some houses/hotels/establishments are made of cements but didn't withstand the super typhoon

Lorena Nazário Leme
Lorena Nazário Leme

God bless all these people who deserves better things in life! They've already suffered enough!0

Argel Reyes
Argel Reyes

Thanks to the international community.. in behalf of my filipino coutrymen.. we thank u.. for ur prayers, support and help.. we will rise again..

Doug Conklin
Doug Conklin

What a horrible disaster--but there is not global warming--DUH!

antonioerum
antonioerum

Maraming.. maraming salamat (a million thanks to all of you) guys who extended sympathies, assistance, donations, suggestions and words of encouragement.  For us Filipinos in our time of need - you guys wherever you are...you will always be in our hearts and minds for sharing what you have.  May the good Lord bestow you all the blessings for your good deeds 

Irene Tizon
Irene Tizon

Yeah saw it on the news last night thank you so much for extending the help they were starving for a couples of days they really needed your help.... Its a heartbreaking when you see them askin for food and water and medicine.... And dead people were everywhere....

Angel Concepcion
Angel Concepcion

I hope the relief work gets there really quick... the people are hungry, have no water for days already... :-(

Rainier Cantre
Rainier Cantre

Our country is still beautiful, Michael. Don't worry :)

Carlos Omar
Carlos Omar

Devastating.. It seems like major catastrophies are occuring more frequently than ever. Hopefully the aid of everyone can turn calamity to calm.

John Rowland
John Rowland

You see stuff like this and you wonder how ANYBODY survived

Charles Wang
Charles Wang

This is a really big tragedy. However, politically speaking, China should be sending massive amount of aid, assistance, and "volunteers" to Philippians right now to extend its soft power across South Asia after such a bitter bickering over border dispute not too long ago.

Kane Mcmighty
Kane Mcmighty

All that pollution most will be going into our seas...

Nat Blakely Ermino
Nat Blakely Ermino

To everyone sending out their help in any given form, we cannot thank you enough.

Oliver Gomez
Oliver Gomez

We need lots of transport/rescue helicopters to be able to bring food, medicines, supplies, clothing, etc to the devastated provinces. Please extend this message to the UN, US and other countries with this capability.

Jill DiSanto
Jill DiSanto

Later today, the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at Penn will be releasing a guide on how individual people can help.

Kyle William Loshure
Kyle William Loshure

An international relief is well needed for this country! We can prevent this from happening if we Help·to·end·Climate·Change! Let's work together using renewable energies! Author Solar·Independent·Utility· Systems·Manual! www.Authorhouse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000438520 $20

Niall Brown
Niall Brown

Such incredible power, I hope they get the help they need

nyny3a
nyny3a

These islands are not safe for human habitation and should be abandoned. With climate change, things will only get worse. The problem is, where do you move all these people now. 

The real long range answer is for family planning, and fewer children.

http://www.populationconnection.org/site/PageServer