News / Asia

Monster Typhoon Exposes Ill-prepared Philippines

Soldiers zip up body bags after families have identified their relatives who perished during super Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city, central Philippines, Nov. 13, 2013.
Soldiers zip up body bags after families have identified their relatives who perished during super Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city, central Philippines, Nov. 13, 2013.
Reuters
Dead bodies clog the basement of the Tacloban City Convention Center. The dazed evacuees in its sports hall are mostly women and children. The men are missing.

That so few men made it to this refuge shows how dimly aware they were of the threat posed by Typhoon Haiyan, which crashed into the central Philippines on Friday with some of the strongest winds ever recorded.

Many men stayed at their homes to guard against looters. Poorly enforced evacuations compounded the problem. And the bodies illustrate another, more troubling truth: the evacuation center itself became a death trap, as many of those huddling in the basement perished in a tsunami-like swirl of water.

Those with the foresight to evacuate flimsy homes along the coast gathered in concrete structures not strong enough to withstand the six-meter (20-ft) storm surges that swept through Tacloban, capital of the worst-hit Leyte province.

The aid, when it came, was slow. Foreign aid agencies said relief resources were stretched thin after a big earthquake in central Bohol province last month and displacement caused by fighting with rebels in the country's south, complicating efforts to get supplies in place before the storm struck.

  • People line up to be evacuated outside Tacloban airport, central Philippines, Nov. 13, 2013.
  • A survivor wipes his face under a Philippines national flag in Tacloban, central Philippines, Nov. 13, 2013.
  • Members of a Philippines rescue team carry corpses in body bags as they search for the dead in Tacloban, central Philippines, Nov. 13, 2013.
  • A rescue team wades into flood waters to retrieve a body in Tacloban, central Phillipines, Nov. 13, 2013.
  • Typhoon survivors hang signs from their necks as they line up to try to board a C-130 military transport plane in Tacloban, Nov. 12, 2013.
  • Typhoon survivors jostle to get a chance to board a C-130 military transport plane in Tacloban, Nov. 12, 2013.
  • A Philippine air force officer hands out orange slices to typhoon survivors as they line up to board a C-130 military transport plane in Tacloban city, Nov. 12, 2013.
  • Tacloban residents wait for military flights inside the terminal of Tacloban airport, Nov. 12, 2013.
  • Typhoon survivors rush to get a chance to board a C-130 military transport plane in Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines, Nov. 12, 2013.
  • Survivors walk in typhoon ravaged Tacloban city, Nov. 12, 2013.
  • An aerial view of the ruins of houses after the devastation of super Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city in central Philippines, Nov. 11, 2013.
  • Survivors carry bags of rice from a warehouse they stormed to get food after the typhoon, Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines, Nov. 11, 2013.

The Philippines, no stranger to natural disasters, was unprepared for Haiyan's fury.

“We're all waiting for our husbands,” said Melody Mendoza, 27, camped out with her two young sons at the convention center, which towers over the devastated coastal landscape.

Local officials say 10,000 people were killed in Tacloban alone. President Benigno Aquino told CNN the death toll from the typhoon was 2,000 to 2,500, saying “emotional drama” was behind the higher estimate.

Aquino defended the government's preparations, saying the toll might have been higher had it not been for the evacuation of people and the readying of relief supplies.

“But, of course, nobody imagined the magnitude that this super typhoon brought on us,” he said.

Warnings unheeded

Two days before the storm hit, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies predicted a “dangerous” typhoon with winds of 240 kph (150 mph) heading straight for Leyte and Samar - the two most devastated provinces.

Warnings were broadcast regularly on television and over social media. More than 750,000 people across the central Philippines were evacuated.

“As bad as the loss of life was, it could have in fact been much, much worse,” said Clare Nullis, spokeswoman for the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization, praising the government's work in issuing warnings.

“Certainly on Thursday and Friday, PAGASA, which is the Philippines' meteorological service, they were sending out regular warnings of a seven-meter (22 ft) storm surge. That was going out on an hourly basis.”

But as the storm approached Tacloban and authorities crisscrossed the city, their warnings often fell on deaf ears.

“Some people didn't believe us because it was so sunny,” said Jerry Yaokasin, vice mayor of Tacloban. “Some people were even laughing.”

Getting relief supplies to survivors has also been chaotic.

Foreign aid workers said they had struggled to get equipment and personnel on to Philippine military cargo planes, with the government prioritizing the deployment of soldiers due to widespread looting at the weekend.

Mark Fernando, 33, a volunteer for the Philippine National Red Cross, arrived in Tacloban on Tuesday afternoon after a two-day wait at nearby Cebu city for a military plane.

“They said, 'Our priority is to bring in soldiers and policemen,”' said Fernando, whose 10-strong team plans to clear debris and set up a water filtration system.

One survivor at the Tacloban convention center said he would have evacuated if he had been told a tsunami-like wall of water might hit.

“On Thursday night we could see the stars in the sky,” said Moises Rosillo, 41, a pedicab driver sheltering beneath the center's distinctive domed roof with his family. “We thought it would just be wind and rain.”

Rosillo evacuated his wife and son, but stayed behind with his father and thousands of other men in a neighborhood near the airport. The authorities warned of a storm surge - a term Rosilla said he didn't understand - but didn't try to forcibly evacuate them.

Winds of 314 kph (195 mph) were followed by a surge of water, which rose to the height of a coconut tree within five minutes, he said. Rosillo was swept into a bay, which he likened to a giant whirlpool, and clung for hours to a piece of wood before struggling ashore. His father died in the water.

Medical workers are treating evacuees at the convention center for lacerations and other wounds.

But many, like Mendoza, complained of a lack of food and poor hygiene. “People won't come here because they are scared their children will get sick.”

'The preparations were not enough'

With so little help arriving, people are still streaming towards Tacloban's airport, where hundreds of people are waiting for a chance to board a flight to Cebu or Manila.

“It appears local government units failed to mobilize officials for forced evacuations to higher and safer ground, out of the way of strong winds, storm surges and widespread flooding,” said Doracie Zoleta-Nantes, an expert on disasters at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Typhoons are a frequent phenomenon in the Philippines and the flimsy nature of rural housing means fatalities are hard to avoid. Haiyan was the second category 5 typhoon to hit this year after Typhoon Usagi in September. An average of 20 typhoons strike every year, and Haiyan was the 24th this year.

Last year, Typhoon Bopha flattened three towns in southern Mindanao, killing 1,100 people and causing damage of more than $1 billion.

Zoleta Nantes, a Philippines native, said despite those disasters and efforts to strengthen disaster management since 2010, “the Philippine government continues a reactive approach to disasters”.

Survivors complained of shortages of food and water, piling pressure on Aquino whose once soaring popularity has been eroded in recent weeks by a corruption scandal roiling his political allies.

Some officials said they could have done more.

“Now, looking back, the preparations were not enough, especially in Tacloban. What we did not prepare for was the breakdown in local functions,” said Lucille Sering, secretary of the government's Climate Change Commission.

Typhoon survivors queue up at Tacloban city airport hoping to be able to board U.S. and Philippine military transport planes, Nov. 13, 2013, in Tacloban city, Leyte province in central Philippines.Typhoon survivors queue up at Tacloban city airport hoping to be able to board U.S. and Philippine military transport planes, Nov. 13, 2013, in Tacloban city, Leyte province in central Philippines.
x
Typhoon survivors queue up at Tacloban city airport hoping to be able to board U.S. and Philippine military transport planes, Nov. 13, 2013, in Tacloban city, Leyte province in central Philippines.
Typhoon survivors queue up at Tacloban city airport hoping to be able to board U.S. and Philippine military transport planes, Nov. 13, 2013, in Tacloban city, Leyte province in central Philippines.
More than 30 countries have pledged aid, but distribution of relief goods has been hampered by impassable roads and rudderless towns that have lost leaders and emergency workers.

Hardest-hit Leyte province has only one working airstrip, which is overrun with relief supplies and crowds jostling to evacuate. It can handle only lighter aircraft.

Philippine Army Major Ruben Guinolbay said help from the United States, other countries and aid agencies was slowed by the lack of clear information. Tacloban's government was wiped out by the storm. Many officials are dead, missing or too overcome with grief to work.

“The usual contact people could not be reached because communications were cut and there was no way of getting information,” he told Reuters. A U.S. Marine commander came to Tacloban to personally assess the situation, he added. After his trip, help started to flow.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the government's response this time was faster than previous disasters.

“We saw something that is really unprecedented,” Abad said. “I don't think we could have prepared for this.”

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid