Guiuan, Eastern Samar: Evacuation centers crumbled
MANILA, Philippines – Located at the southeastern tip of Eastern Samar – sandwiched by the Pacific Ocean and Leyte Gulf – the fishing municipality of Guiuan never saw winds as strong as those that roared their way on Friday, November 8.
The local residents say they are used to tropical cyclones but they were unprepared for the ferocity of Super Typhoon Yolanda (international codename Haiyan). Powerful winds knocked down walls and other concrete structures in the storm’s path. Houses made of light materials went flying. The streets filled with debris.
"The people are full of anguish, like they don't understand what hit them," Solar TV News reporter David Santos recounted. He was making his way from the isolated town of Tacloban City in the neighboring province of Leyte.
Along the way, he saw scenes of chaos: buildings turned into rubble, trees and fallen electricity posts on the road, and survivors homeless on the streets.
Guiuan was cut off from the rest of the region, a problem that plagued most parts of Eastern Visayas that bore the brunt of the storm.
Residents of Guiuan –as they were wont to do during typhoons – took shelter in schools and gyms. But like what happened in Cateel, in Davao Oriental, Santos recalled, these evacuation centers where they sought refuge crumbled, unable to bear the brunt of the roaring winds of 315 km/h. Weather forecasters earlier identified Guiuan as the first area that Yolanda would hit on its first landfall.
The town of Cateel bore much of the impact, with every building heavily damaged by strong wind and rain when Typhoon Pablo pummeled Mindanao in 2012.
Santos said the same thing had happened in Guiuan – except that it was much worse.
The evacuation centers that were supposed to protect them ended up being hazards. According to Santos, police officials estimated 15 casualties from the town. Rescue and retrieval operations are still underway, with aid workers uncovering the dead and injured from the rubble of crushed buildings.
Santos told of one incident about a married couple rescuers found under the rubble of their own home. Miraculously, the couple's child was found beneath them, unconscious but alive.
"You can just imagine, at the height of the typhoon, people are scampering to look for better cover for safety. They were all running like ants, not knowing where to go. You can see two-year-old children and the elderly trying hard to walk in the strong wind and rain, just so they can find better shelter."
No sense of authority
The widespread devastation has crippled even the town's local officials. Santos said there was "no sense of authority" in the town. Hungry survivors scrambled to gather food from the rubble of houses and shops. Just like in Tacloban City, desperate survivors scoured for supplies from among the debris.
"Looting was almost automatic. Right after the rain stopped, people started coming out into the streets to rummage for supplies," Santos said.
Authorities were helpless. Santos said that with only around 30 policemen in the town and 10 military personnel, there was no way for authorities to stop the looting.
"The people were frustrated, hungry, and desperate," Santos said. "We saw people getting more food than they'd need, but because one of them started the looting, everyone else simply followed suit."
Santos said the force of the storm was both unprecedented and unexpected. Despite warnings from weather experts and media, people did not expect the typhoon to wreak as much havoc as it did, Santos said.
Right now, the town's residents are urgently in need of food, water, anti-tetanus medicine, and formaldehyde for their dead. With most communication lines still down, they are relying on outside help for rescue.
"They are hoping that the media can get out of Guiuan so the information can be relayed," Santos said. "No news reaches the town. They think the destruction only happened to them. They don't understand that the entire Eastern Samar is devastated."
Watch the full interview here: