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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid counter-terror intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid