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Day Ten – Super Typhoon Yolanda

Submitted by on November 18, 2013 – 1:26 pm
Spray painted sign on the wall of a building in Tacloban City

The rain let up a little bit in the afternoon yesterday, and I went out for a walk. I was interested in going to City Hall to see what was going on there. I kept hearing more and more about City Hall and it seemed that, short of a trip out to the airport, this was the place to go to see what is happening.

The streets around me continue to be blocked, so I took a circuitous route along the coast to get there. This took me past the place where I had my accident, and I took a short detour to the exact spot. It looked much more dangerous than even I remembered, and I took a picture. Not surprisingly, I had trouble crossing it even going slowly, and I slipped at one point and nearly went for a second, though much smaller, tumble. I saved myself with my right hand – at the expense of a sudden shot of extreme pain. Very dumb thing to do, but that is what I am all about.

I went that route also to see if any of the bodies had finally been removed, and it seemed that they had. Even the baby in the plastic container had been removed.

I went past the destroyed theater – a walk just as difficult as it was on the first day – and found that the wide flat area there was being used as a temporary dumping ground for debris and garbage. Dump truck after dump truck came racing in to deposit their load and a huge front-end loader was piling it up as high as they could get it. On a far wall, someone had painted a large S.O.S. sign, and I took a picture of that. I’ve seen many of these type of signs. Even the people at this pension house wrote out the word FOOD in large letters using white plastic sheets in the courtyard. I’m not sure what the point of these signs is. Perhaps they thought a helicopter would come by and drop a food supply right on the sign – just like the scenes in “Empire of the Sun” – Frigidaires dropping from the sky.

I also came across the search and rescue team from South Korea there. Most of the team was sitting on the ground on a short spit of land sticking out into the water. Just inland, there was a solitary man standing beside a set of big crates with a beautiful high-tec white drone on top. The man said that they had used the drone to get an aerial view of the coast and look for bodies. I’m not sure that this would end up being very useful. I’m sure it was great fun to pilot the drone and look at the pictures, but finding the bodies hardly seemed that difficult. I found them just by walking along. If you don’t see the bodies yourself, the local people have certainly found them and will point them out to you.

A short walk up the hill from there brought me to City Hall. Operations there had expanded considerably and a small tent community had blossomed. I saw signs from many different organizations, both NGOs and media groups. Many of these groups were well-equipped, and I saw fancy generators in operation everywhere powering the many laptops hooked into the big satellite dishes.

I stopped to chat with a group of men from Solar News. They gave me a cup of coffee and a packet of pork and beans and some bread. They were very friendly guys and enjoyed calling out “hello” in different languages to people as they walked by.

Inside one of the main buildings, I found a series of desks where people could register their NGOs and get information and do other things. Most of the signs were scrawled in pen on scrap pieces of paper. The whole right side of the room appeared to be set aside for the Japanese contingent. Everything there looked quite a bit more official with printed signs and large piles of boxes and bags of supplies. They seemed particularly concerned with information about any Japanese who had gone missing in the typhoon. To the left of the door was a set of long tables arranged in a square with perhaps twenty men and women intently working at computers. I guessed that they were all journalists. They certainly had that look about them. I wondered who was in charge of all this and whether a plan had been in place or if all of this just sprang up organically according to need. When thinking about disaster planning, it hadn’t occurred to me that arrangements would have to be made for international media. Yet, that makes perfect sense. The media is going to descend on your city and it is in your best interests in terms of securing aid and assistance to get as much information out as possible. So they would have to think in terms of providing them with an Internet connection, electricity, a place to work, and perhaps even food and a place to sleep. I noticed that there was a long line of porta-potties along the side of the main city hall building. I don’t know if there were shower arrangements. Perhaps there were. It might seem counter-intuitive to expend resources on visiting media when there are so many people out there in real trouble, but it makes sense.

I do, however, end up with a niggling feeling that there is a disconnect between all this relief effort and the actual situation. I see a beehive of activity – people running around and setting up tents and generators. I see helicopters flying through the air. I see drones being launched and being flown over the city to take pictures. This is all likely a great deal of fun, but I don’t know that it helps anyone in any particular way. Out there in Tacloban, I see people looking after themselves as they have always done – cooking their rice over wood fires, washing their clothes at whatever water sources they can find, clearing away rubble and beginning to rebuild. For the first time, I witnessed some relief food being distributed and this was being done through a local barangay hall. I wonder if the international relief organizations know how important the barangay system and structure is in the Philippines. Perhaps food aid should be funneled through them – assuming that barangay councils are still operating in some form. Yet, I haven’t heard anyone say anything good about anyone in their government – from the president all the way down to the mayors and barangay captains. All the talk is of corruption and even selfish cowardice. So distributing food aid through them might not be viewed as a wise move by the local people. They would imagine the politicians simply keeping the resources for themselves or otherwise profiting from the flow.

I was quite interested in two large NGOs from Turkey. I don’t normally associate Turkey with international relief efforts, but it seems that these NGOs are active all over the world. I first saw some of their personnel outside of Manny’s Hayward store – a dark-haired woman with a camera. I saw this same woman at city hall. She was going around trying to secure a large tent for their operations. They planned to prepare and serve food to 2,000 people a day at city hall, and they needed another tent to make this happen. I went up to their tents and spoke with people there just out of curiosity. Most people continue to assume that I am a journalist or with some official organization. I suppose I’m behaving somewhat like a journalist – roaming around and taking pictures and asking people questions. But whatever I learn and see just ends up on my memory cards and in my journal.


Day Nine - Super-Typhoon Yolanda
Day Eleven - Super Typhoon Yolanda
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