Tacloban Diary: I saw death, I fear anarchy

Rupert Ambil

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For now, amid the chaos and grief, it's every man for himself

RETRIEVAL. Dead bodies litter the streets of Tacloban city as volunteers collect them. Photo by EPA/Francis Malasig

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Rupert Ambil, Rappler’s head of Systems, Editorial and Field, arrived here Saturday morning via the military’s C130 plane. He shared with us this story through a satellite phone.

Having grown up in the region, I could barely recognize Tacloban. It’s like the city had been bulldozed and I was in a different time and place. I saw devastation. I smelled death. I fear anarchy. (READ: Tacloban devastated; at least 100 dead)

Government officials in the airport looked just as dazed and confused as the residents. They didn’t know where – or how – to begin. The relief goods from Manila were gone in an instant. The airport itself was wiped out.

SEVERE DAMAGE. The scene on a street just outside the Tacloban airport. Photo by EPA/Francis Malasig

Because no vehicle was in sight, we decided to walk from the airport to the city hall. It was the saddest, 3-hour walk of my life. I passed by dead bodies. I hurdled debris and fallen trees. I was approached many times by people begging for food, water, any kind of help. Each person I met had a sibling or parent or close relatives who died on Friday, November 8, when Super Typhoon Yolanda slammed into the coastal city.

I saw very few establishments that were left standing. I looked everywhere and I saw only the remains of a once-serene city by the sea.

State of panic

Food and drinking water had practically run out. People here are in a state of panic – and that’s an understatement. Some have started entering stores and homes just to get food, appliances, or anything they could get hold of to survive the day.

For now, amid the chaos and grief, it’s every man for himself.

ANARCHY. People started entering stores and homes just to get food, appliances, or anything they could get hold of to survive the day. Photo by EPA/Francis Malasig

I proceeded to a local hospital, which was also damaged by the typhoon. The hallway was filled with dead people. Nurses and hospital workers could only do so much; they had run out of medical supplies to treat the wounded. As I stepped out, a pregnant woman was ushered in, ready to give birth.

I have covered so many disasters in my work. But I have never seen anything as heartbreaking as the one I was seeing. What about the remote parts of the city? How about the other coastal towns of Leyte? I dread what I might see in the coming days.

There is barely a semblance of government for now. Because communication lines had been cut and roads to nearby villages and provinces had been broken, it is tough to extend relief, much more identify the areas that need it the most.

RELIEF EFFORT. Soldiers, UN personnel and DSWD volunteers on board the C130 aircraft en route to Tacloban city. Photo by Rappler/Rupert Ambil

Government officials just set up their operations center this morning; tents are also being built to accommodate workers who will help in the relief and rehabilitation efforts, along with medical personnel who can set up mobile clinics here.

Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said people here have told her that the waters rose as high as 15 feet. “Houses are totally devastated…it’s total destruction,” she said. The city needs blankets, mats, dry clothes, drinking water, and food, she added.

Where the homeless will stay is a challenge that the government has to deal with amid the debris.

Tonight, the dead will continue to lie on the streets of Tacloban and those they left behind will try to find shelter and gather whatever Yolanda’s lashing left them with. – Rappler.com


Slideshow photos by Rappler/Rupert Ambil

Get the latest info on the status of areas affected by typhoon Yolanda (international codename: Haiyan).

Help the victims of Yolanda. Visit Rappler’s list of ongoing relief operations in your area. Tell us about your relief and recovery initiatives, email move.ph@rappler.com or tweet us @moveph.

Visit rappler.com/typhoon-yolanda for the latest updates on Typhoon Yolanda.


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