A member of the Philippine Bureau of Fire Protection in a heavy gas mask stands over a body bag and gestures to alert his colleagues in the garbage truck used to transport victims’ remains to a mass grave.
The Hell of Typhoon Haiyan
Santa Barbara Journalist Reports on Disaster from Philippines
Thursday, November 21, 2013
After spending the better part of a year as The Santa Barbara Independent’s listings editor, Jack Crosbie left the paper to embark on a career as an international correspondent. His first stop was the Republic of the Philippines, where Crosbie joined Santa Barbara’s Vitamin Angels on one of their nutrition distribution missions. The country had just experienced a savage earthquake, and days after Crosbie and Vitamin Angels brought some relief to Tacloban, the city was devastated by a typhoon of global headline–grabbing proportions. Here is Crosbie’s firsthand report on that city and country, filed from Manila.
By Jack Crosbie
An AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) soldier hands a United Nations high-calorie survival biscuit to a hungry refugee, one of hundreds crowded into waiting areas at Tacloban’s airport.
At around seven in the morning on November 8, Super-Typhoon Haiyan crashed into the shores of Eastern Samar province in the Philippines, making landfall almost directly over the city of Guiuan. After chewing through Samar, Haiyan — known as “Yolanda” in the Philippines — tore into the neighboring island of Leyte, again scoring a direct hit, this time on the city of Tacloban, a major transportation hub and population center in the Visayas region of the country.
At its peak, Haiyan was a 370-mile-wide cyclone of fiendish winds that reached gusts of 235 miles per hour and sustained at just shy of 200 miles per hour. Storm surges brought water 17 feet straight up buildings, flooding the ground level of almost every structure in the affected coastal areas.
If you’ve been anywhere near a television in the past two weeks, you probably know much of this and have heard that the number of confirmed deaths, which just broke 4,000, is expected to climb into five digits. At least 9.8 million people have been affected, but maybe more than 13 million, depending on whom you believe. Haiyan is playing out like most disasters in the modern news era, the dead and the wounded and the missing being racked up as nameless digits on the scrolling tickers of major networks. On the ground inside Tacloban’s sports stadium, the whiteboards at the United Nations impromptu headquarters are covered in hastily erased and re-scribbled figures, as new projections and assessments come in.
By Jack Crosbie
Clarence, a young survivor of the typhoon, rests in the shade of a building in Barangay Magay, about 10 kilometers south of Tacloban. Barangay Magay was nearly completely destroyed by the storm.
Away from the statistics, you learn that the storm surge wasn’t 17 feet; it was up one story and onto the second floor, when, as Noel Ladrera told me, he had to jump down from outside his nearly flattened house. You learn that the 17 feet wasn’t 17 feet in some places, but that the sea came in and went out three times, claiming more lives each time as people tried to flee. Bodies hung from ceiling supports, and families clustered together in whoever’s house had the best concrete. You learn that it wasn’t the wind or the rain or the ocean that did the most damage, but the wind and the rain and the ocean combined and multiplied to create a perfect storm.
As Matthew Cochrane, press officer for the United Nations team in Tacloban, put it, “The disaster was on a scale that this country had never experienced … We know we need to be doing more; we know we need to be doing better; we know we need to be going faster.” The Filipinos I met entirely agreed: Though they usually see several typhoons a year, Yolanda is the worst they’ve seen.