The first look at the destruction left by Typhoon Haiyan is a shock – even for those used to working in disasters.
|TACLOBAN, Philippines/ HONG KONG, 13 November 2013 – I have been working on emergencies for more than 15 years now, and I seriously thought I had seen it all.
But flying into Tacloban on Monday as part of a United Nations assessment team, I was in for a shock.
As the plane taxied along the bare runway, I could see mud and ruin – only mud and ruin – where once there had been trees and buildings and all the normal signs of life.
Yes, there was still a tarmac runway, but that was all that was there – a runway. Everything that had once been inside the terminal buildings was now outside, and what had been outside was inside, including a flight of boarding stairs.
We were told to avoid parts of the ruined buildings because there were still bodies in the rubble where airport employees had sought refuge from the storm.
The road from the airport once ran through small fishing villages that lined the coast. They are now completely gone.
It was probably a mistake, but as we drove to the city hall, I counted the bodies we passed. I stopped at 100.
The dead were just lying there, among the dazed groups of survivors who were milling about. No structure was left untouched. Even the biggest and strongest concrete buildings were damaged.
There was an eerie quiet as I walked around the city hall. After the other emergencies I’ve worked on, I expected activity, convoys of trucks passing through.
But here there was nothing – no phones ringing, no bustle or movement – just dazed people shuffling about trying to find help and provisions.
I went to the city coliseum to talk to survivors. Even before they opened their mouths, I could see in their eyes the shock, fear and frustration at what they had just been through.
One man saw me with my satellite phone and told me, “Use that to call help and get food for us.”
I can only imagine the hunger and desperation a father must feel when he can’t feed his children. And what about the children who have lost their loved ones and don’t have anyone to care for them? I worry for the many children who for days now have had very little.
UNICEF trucks are arriving in the next days with essential supplies for children and their families. I’ve been told to stay and work with local and national authorities to get them distributed right away. I am hoping this can help.
After traveling through the city, I reported back to colleagues in Manila with a few bars of phone signal I could get in this one spot I found.
There’s no need to assess anymore, I told them.
These people here have lost everything. They need everything.