Supertyphoon Haiyan cut an expansive path of destruction across the central Philippine islands over the weekend, pummeling Samar province and the city of Tacloban, and leaving an estimated 1,700 dead. But officials are still coming to grips with the extent of damage in more rural areas like Daanbantayan, a cluster of villages that were almost entirely flattened by surging seas and blasts of wind as the typhoon made its third landfall.
A relief team from the aid group World Vision made its first foray into the storm-stricken region on Tuesday. With no power and no contacts in the area, they did not know what to expect. Four hours from the worst-hit area, the wind had snapped stalks of bamboo in two. Three hours away, it had ripped palm trees out of the ground. And as aid workers drew closer to their destination, they saw collapsed tangles of metal scaffolding and metal lampposts bent to the ground or ripped from their concrete foundations. Families sat in the splintered ruins of their houses, soaked by passing rain showers.
Vice Mayor Gilbert Arrabis Jr., who oversees 20 areas in the municipality, said “all of them” were hard hit. He stopped tracking the tally of families affected by the storm when it became clear that nearly all needed aid. To speed up shipments of food, he designated all families eligible. “We are dealing with 12,000 families,” he said, “and we’re not looking for onetime relief.”
The crisis in Daanbantayan is not on the tragic scale of Tacloban; officials have counted nine casualties so far. But with homes and livelihoods in shambles, a large swath of the population now depends on the government and NGOs for food and shelter. And downed power lines have reduced tracking systems to sheaves of loose-leaf paper with hand-scrawled names for each recipient.
A 10-minute drive from Arrabis’ office, some two dozen women and children waited for the latest shipment of food. They led a tour through their evacuation shelter, a one-room schoolhouse that had become the living room, dining room and bedroom for 15 families. One mother had given birth in the room the night before.
With an outstretched hand, Lieza Canete, 26, gestured at all of her worldly possessions: a pillow, a blanket and a sleeping mat. The rest had been dragged into the sea. “Nothing,” she said, and the others repeated the word. She cringes at the thought of returning to the site where her house once stood. “I don’t know this place,” she says of her old home, and she does not know how long she will stay in the cramped confines of the shelter.
For now, she said her foremost concern was food. They had enough to feed the children, but the small bag of rice and sardines for each family can’t last more than a few days, and they’ve had to ration between shipments.
A shout from outside the shelter’s door made everyone jump to attention. “Support!” Canete said. “Rice!” said her 74-year-old roommate. The 15 families spilled out of the shelter, but it was a false alarm. No aid had arrived. They returned to the shelter, where the waiting began again.