Typhoon Haiyan: 'This is God's punishment'... Rebuilding lives amid the ruins of the Philippines

As the Philippines struggles to deal with the aftermath of the typhoon, survivors survey the wreckage of their  lives, in an atmosphere of decay – and increasing fear

Tacloban

Almost seven days after a storm besieged her city and turned her world upside down, Marie Gloria Troyo sat and recalled how she had saved the lives of her brother and sister – pushing them on to the rafters of a school room and clinging tightly to them for six hours as the winds raged and the sky turned black.

As waters rose around them, she was convinced their time had come, that they were all to die. She was certain her hands would become too cold in the rain for them to be of any use to her. And yet somehow they all held on.

“I could not see anything. It was so dark, even though it was the day,” said the 23-year-old, sitting at the school that had been established as an emergency evacuation centre. “I was just thinking of my brother, Regine, and my sister Fortunata. I could not feel my hands. We were praying and crying and asking God for help.”

A week after Typhoon Haiyan roared through the eastern Philippines, the city of Tacloban is still struggling to cope with the devastation wrought by perhaps the most powerful ever storm of its kind. At its peak, the typhoon’s winds were as strong as 200mph.

Queues of bewildered, bedraggled people crowd at the wrecked airport, desperate for a chance to get out. In the city, thousands gather in the shells of their homes or else in one of two dozen basic emergency shelters established by the authorities.

The streets are lined with filth and garbage and in a number of locations bloated corpses still lie in body bags placed by the kerbsides. In places, it is difficult to breathe without the rot of decay and death catching in the throat. Everywhere people are walking – on the lookout for food, for water and for anything that make things a little more comfortable for them.

The cityscape is a slideshow of the bizarre, sitting alongside the everyday; boats swept high on to dry land, hawkers selling looted cigarettes, young couple pausing to stop and gaze at one another on Avenida Veteranos, a motorcyclist giving a lift to a friend carrying his own motorcycle on his lap.

Perhaps oddest of all was in the city’s MacArthur Park neighbourhood, where every building had been wrecked, every tree denuded of leaves. And yet, somehow, the statue remembering the occasion on 20 October 1944 when General Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines, survived largely unscathed. Far in the distance, behind the glimmering frieze of the general and his men, sat a warship, part of the relief mission.

Nearby, in the Philippines Science High School, another emergency shelter, around 3,000 people were camping in the hallways and classrooms, cooking rice and washing clothes. Smoke trailed into the hot morning sky.

The college’s principal, Ray Garnace, said the 250 or so families had no sanitation; people were using the abandoned third floor of the college to defecate. Fearing the spread of disease, he said he had urged them to dig a pit at the back of the building.

Annetta Navarra, wearing a purple T-shirt, was among the thousands of city residents wondering how to rebuild their lives. When the storm struck at around 6am last Friday morning, she went to stay in the house of a neighbour. Her husband, Virgilio, and son stayed at their home, to look after the family business. The storm came, water swept in at the height of a coconut tree and her husband was washed away. A piece of debris hit his head. Her son survived.

“We found him three days after the storm. His body was decomposing,” Mrs Navarra said quietly of her husband. “My son found him. We had to bury him in a rice field.” Did she have a photograph of her husband? “Our house was swept away, there is nothing left – not a single thing,” she said. “All of our clothes were washed away. I just have what some neighbours gave me.”

Like the others waiting in the wreck of the school, Mrs Navarra had been there for seven days. She had no idea how much longer she might have to remain.

She said she and her son had talked of getting some land close to where they had lived and rebuilding, though she said: “I have no life.”.

Last night it emerged that a Briton, Colin Bembridge, 61, from Grimsby, was staying with his Filipino partner Maybelle Go, 35, and their three-year-old daughter near Tacloban when the typhoon struck. The pharmacist, who lives with his family in England, had been visiting relatives.

The authorities have faced criticism that the aid operation has not progressed more quickly. Distribution of food and water only began on Thursday. Aid experts say they would have expected things to have moved faster.

At the same time, they have acknowledged the challenges specific to this disaster. The storm wrought havoc to a huge area, disrupting infrastructure and blocking roads. Many local government employees did not show up for work for a number of days because their own homes had been destroyed.

Officials say 600,000 people have been displaced by Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the islands of Samar and Leyte hardest. The death toll, meanwhile, has risen to 4,460, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Some officials have projected that the eventual toll will top 10,000.

President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman, the Information Minister, Ricky Carandang, said that as many as 90 per cent of employees were not available to work in the days following the storms. Yet he insisted that progress was made.

“Every day we are delivering things. We certainly need to speed things up but I think it is better than it was five or six days ago,” he said. “Now the airport is open, there is partial restoration of power, water, cell phone service. It’s a significant improvement.”

Aid experts say that, even at this stage, the priorities for the people of Tacloban and the surrounding area remain very basic – food, water, shelter and sanitation. There is also concern about providing safe areas for children.

“The Philippines is no stranger to natural disasters. There were 20 typhoons this year. Previous responses have been faster,” said Tomoo Hozumi, a Unicef spokesman.

Local people said Tacloban was perhaps 95 per cent Roman Catholic, with just a small number of Muslims. Many people struggling in the aftermath said they believed the mighty storm had been an act of God.

“Oh, there is a God. He saved us,” said 75-year-old Soledad Majos, a mother of nine children, who had spent the last five days in a church that had been transformed into an emergency shelter.

Why, then, send such a devastating storm? “Because there are so many bad people. This is his punishment.”

Doctor’s diary: Richard Villar in Cebu

Orthopaedic surgeon Richard Villar has been deployed as part of a team of 12 emergency British medical staff by the Department for International Development (DFID). He arrived yesterday in Cebu, the hub of the aid effort.

“Twelve hours in an A380 plane is a very long time but nevertheless our travels to the Philippines disaster area are now well under way. Briefing documents have been read, maps studied, and the team is as ready as it can be. There are already several workers in the catastrophe zone who are moving the heavens to ensure we are well occupied as soon as possible.

“Local emergency response efforts are important. Once a relief programme is established, there can be upwards of 500 organisations present. Imagine a stretch of road, say a mile and a half long. Then pitch multiple tents on each side of the road, shoulder to shoulder, each with different insignia for all the different organisations.

“To put it lightly, the situation on the ground is fluid. Lists of our medical equipment, all three metric tons of it, are distributed and I glance through the contents. This is essential as, however qualified we may be at disaster and conflict surgery, a surgical team can only operate with suitable equipment. The kit seems good and there is plenty of it. But it is basic and I can see it is likely we might have to upgrade.

“Our leader reminds us that there are plenty of dead bodies still to be removed, and that many will find this distressing, but in terms of spreading disease, a dead body poses no risk to the living. The winds are also continuing, not as strong as the original, dramatic, perilous Typhoon Haiyan, but still sufficient to cause continuing damage. ‘The winds can blow for up to 16 hours at a time,’ we are told.

“Aid work is very opportunistic. Little is predictable, so you catnap when you can, eat whenever possible and keep your electrical items charged at all times. You can never tell what lies around the corner.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention