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

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid