A day after a seemingly endless deluge, the silence was almost deafening. Not one sound can be heard when just hours before the wind roared and the rain pounded on roofs. The groan of wood and cement was a threatening noise. Thousands feared for their lives. Thousands of lives had been lost.
The once bustling coastal towns of the central Philippines now lie silent under clearer skies but people cannot find solace with the passing of the storm.
Reports of the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan described a scene of utter chaos—corpses hanging from trees, whole villages razed to the ground and families still trying to grasp the uncertainty of their future.
Haiyan, a category 5 typhoon and the strongest to make landfall this year, inflicted serious damage to at least six of the archipelago’s more than 7,000 islands.
The province of Leyte was the hardest hit by the wrath of Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, where up to 10,000 were feared dead. The death toll has since been lowered to 2,500. Debris and mud littered the streets of Tacloban city after Haiyan, packing winds of 235 kph (147 mph) with gusts of up to 275 kph (170 mph), triggered a storm surge of 6 meters (20 feet).
The extent of the damage was still unclear as rescue workers struggle to reach parts of the province. The death toll stood at 229 but was expected to climb, with more bodies lay unclaimed among rubble, according to reports.
The airport in Tacloban was destroyed in the storm. The control tower’s glass windows were shattered while the airstrip was littered with debris. Overturned cars littered the streets while two ships were washed ashore by giant waves.
“On the way to the airport we saw many bodies along the street,” said Philippine-born Australian Mila Ward, 53, told the AP. “They were covered with just anything – tarpaulin, roofing sheets, cardboards.”
Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, described the disaster as monumental. “As of now, there’s no time to count the bodies,” he said.
In neighboring Samar Island, at least 300 people were confirmed dead in one town and another 2,000 were missing, with some towns yet to be reached by rescuers. The northern part of Cebu, which was hit by a 5.4-magnitude earthquake last month, also bore the brunt of the ferocious typhoon.
About 4 million people were affected by the storm, the national disaster agency said.
President Benigno Aquino III placed Tacloban city under a state of emergency to allow the central government to speed up relief and reconstruction efforts as desperation began to dawn on tens of thousands of families displaced by the typhoon. It’s every man for himself as looting is becoming widespread in the city.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said a massive rescue operation was underway to reach isolated areas after communications and power were cut off.
“The devastation is, I don’t have the words for it,” Roxas said. “It’s really horrific. It’s a great human tragedy.”
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel mobilized ships and aircraft from the US Pacific Command to support search-and-rescue operations and airlift emergency supplies.
The European Commission has also sent a team to assist Philippine authorities. “We stand ready to contribute with urgent relief and assistance if so required in this hour of need,” Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the EC, said in a message to Aquino.
Elsewhere in the country, donations and aid for survivors continuously trickled in, signifying an undying hope in times of devastation.
By Maesie Bertumen
If you would like to help, the following links have information for several foreign aid agencies:
Image of Typhoon Haiyan from the International Space Station: Fragile Oasis/Flickr