Int’l journalists recall Haiyan’s dead and survivors

Daisy Cl Mandap
Journalists share their lessons in disaster reporting from Yolanda/Haiyan ground zero

REMEMBERING HAIYAN. International correspondents recall the super typhoon at a forum in Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of Daisy CL Mandap

HONG KONG – Three months on, and the disturbing images from the aftermath of the worst typhoon ever recorded remain seared in the minds of the international correspondents who covered the tragic event.

Two of them, Kristie Lu Stout of CNN and Keith Bradsher of the New York Times, shared their experiences in covering Supoer Typhoon Haiyan on Wednesday, February 12, at a lunch forum of the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong. (READ: World media in PH; Cooper slams slow Haiyan response)

For Bradsher, the most frustrating was seeing how a man with a minor leg wound ended up dying of blood poisoning for lack of medical care, 5 days after the massive storm surge swept away a big chunk of Tacloban City in the Philippines.

But as he said, it was an event beyond anything that could have been imagined by anyone. “It was a very big tragedy for the people of the Philippines,” Bradsher said.

He recounted how food, water and other basic goods were so scarce in Tacloban no one who had them in store would sell them. When gasoline could finally be obtained, it sold for $10 a liter.

Anarchy, dead bodies 

Corpses littered the city that it became a norm for people to cover their faces with bandanas. But this also caused unease, as some could have been hiding their identities to loot precious commodities. “Tacloban was badly shattered. You are talking of a city with half a million people,” he said.

Bradsher shared another unforgettable scene of a man holding up a sign saying “Back at 5pm” between two corpses. He reportedly explained that the bodies were those of his wife and 7-year-old son, and that he wanted to leave them for awhile to look for food as he was so hungry. (WATCH: After Yolanda: Waiting for Oscar)

Sadly, said Bradsher, the man never returned, and the remains of his family that he had guarded so zealously did probably end up, just as had feared, in an unmarked grave.

Stout said that she was sent by CNN to Manila immediately after the typhoon struck since her colleague Andrew Stevens who was in Tacloban could not be reached. Two other reporters, Anderson Cooper and Paula Hancocks, were also in the stricken city.

To her initial dismay, she was told to stay put in Manila and anchor the news from there. But then, she realized that the story “was not about me, but the survivors.”

Later, she realized that it made sense to report from the capital as communication lines in Tacloban were mostly down. Her presence in Manila allowed CNN to have uninterrupted coverage of the disaster from day one.

Lessons from the field

Despite being away from the scene of the devastation, Stout was not spared the sight of large-scale suffering in the stricken areas. Among them was a picture she shared of colleague Stevens helping save a disabled girl in neck-deep floodwaters inside the hotel where he was at.

But when asked later about his most disturbing experience, Stevens reportedly said it was when a man had asked him for water and he could not give any.

So affected was Stout from what she was seeing that on day 5 of her coverage, she tweeted a call to step up the relief operations.

Stout cited two lessons learned from the Haiyan coverage. First, that people who could potentially be affected by a looming disaster are made aware of the danger. Second, that access to key areas must be had to ensure a steady flow of information.

For Bradsher, it was a “deeply moving experience” that made him realize that he could make a difference in the lives of people. (READ: The baby in the backpack)

He also said he was “deeply moved by the resilience of the Filipino people” in trying to rebuild their lives. –

Daisy CL Mandap is a veteran journalist, having worked for various newspapers and TV stations in the Philippines and in Hong Kong. She is also a lawyer and migrants rights activist. For the past 14 years, she has worked as the editor of The SUN-HK, a bi-weekly Filipino community newspaper published in Hong Kong by her husband, Leo A. Deocadiz.

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