Tacloban: storm central
News continues to reach us in the wake of the strongest storm to ever make landfall, as typhoon Haiyan carved a trail of devastation through the central islands of the Philippines leaving unconfirmed thousands dead in the aftermath. The once vibrant coastal city of Tacloban, capitol the easterly island of Leyte caught the full force of the typhoon with winds approaching 195 mph. It was followed by a storm surge which is reported to have reached up to 13 feet, flattened homes, schools and badly damaged the airport.
Tacloban, a city wrapped around a horseshoe-shaped bay, is home to 220,000 people and lies about 350 miles southeast of Manila. Stories are reported daily of the calamity and death toll and of survivors there left without shelter, food or clean water.
Though far from our mountains, we are touched by the suffering we see on the TV screen, and in the case of my own family, the suffering is personal. Over 20 members of my son’s in-laws live together in a family compound in Tacloban. The last communication came a week ago in a cut off message that the roof had just blown off their house. And then the line went dead. My daughter-in-law has been frantic for news of her 87-year-old father and siblings and numerous nieces and nephews.
In some ways, the damage in Tacloban is even worse than it was in Indonesia after the giant tsunami swept ashore in 2004. The tsunami inundated neighborhoods closest to the coast, but homes, cars and diesel generators farther inland were spared and provided bases for relief efforts. But in Tacloban it flooded practically everything in sight with fast-moving torrents. Backyard diesel generators, usually used during blackouts, were wrecked by the water, so the city has been dark at night, when large bands of looters gather.
Word has reached us that two family members living in Manila are enroute to Tacloban with food and supplies. They, like hundred of others, are searching for their relatives, and as we’re seeing on the news, are bravely putting themselves in harm’s way.
Aid agencies have warned of a deteriorating security situation as people get more desperate for food and water. There have been reports that an aid convoy travelling to Tacloban was attacked. In a phone call from California, my son, Alex, said the military has commandeered the barges which cross the many islands between Manila and Tacloban. He added there is an additional danger from guerrilla forces called the New People Army (NPA) attacking the military convoys, the relief services, and even those Filipinos bringing food and water to their lost endangered families. “It’s like a scene from an otherworld action movie, only it’s real!” he said.
Despite the many difficulties, there are reports of improvements as of Tuesday. Roads are opening up and cargo planes are taking survivors more speedily to safety. Through a chain of a third, fourth or fifth-hand relay of communications, news of a sighting of some members of the Candela family has been reported. We hope and pray those reports are true.