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Saturday 20 September 2014

Bodies still line ravaged city's streets

Over a week into relief efforts after Typhoon Haiyan, aid is slow to arrive, writes's Joyce Fegan in Tacloban

Published 17/11/2013 | 01:00

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FEARS: Mulvarosa Perote thinks her nephew and his family were swept away

JERICHO swam frantically for his life as his home was engulfed in the raging storm that killed several members of his family. Alone, and in just a T-shirt and shorts, he "fought" his way on to a plane bound for Manila, the capital of the Philippines, to go and find help.

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Jericho returns home to Tacloban today, where the corpses of his family members have lain in the rubble for over a week.

Millions of people have been made homeless, left with nothing bar the dirty clothes on their backs.

Aid is slow to arrive to the dozens of areas decimated by the strongest typhoon in human history. With nothing left, recovery is almost impossible to comprehend for survivors.

The Sunday Independent spoke to one mother trying to breastfeed her screaming baby, even though she has no access to drinking water herself.

Mary Grace – a mother of three, the youngest of which is just five months old – had to scavenge and "run for food" around her town on the island of Panay.

Her house is without a roof since the typhoon hit and in her town so little help has arrived.

By Friday, a full week into relief efforts, the only help Mary Grace received was a food package from Goal, the first aid able to reach her stricken town.

Her neighbour Lauren pulled her 40-year-old son's body from the sea after it had floated there for three days. About 130 people died in her town as the typhoon raged for 10 hours, ripping through homes along the coast. People were washed out to sea in the four-metre high waves. Lauren's son was one of them.

The corpses were swollen with water and beginning to smell in the tropical climate, where temperatures top 30 degrees Celsius. Lauren had to bury her grown son in a shallow grave.

"I did not have the luxury of a funeral," she said.

Fr Shay Cullen, who knows Jericho, has worked in the Philippines for over 40 years with the Columban Fathers and his charity, Preda, which protects orphaned kids from the sex trade. He described the efforts of locals as "heroic", as they are working 24 hours a day packing food for the worst-affected people in their communities.

Fr Shay, a three-time Nobel prize nominee, revealed that Hollywood star Charlie Sheen and his actor father Martin Sheen have donated several thousand dollars to help Preda in its recovery efforts over here. The priest said his "greatest concern" now was that the orphaned children could be abducted.

One woman in Tacloban gave birth to a baby girl just two days after the typhoon ravaged the once-thriving city. Whilst both mother and baby were miraculously safe and healthy, aid efforts in Tacloban are chaotic as dead bodies still line the streets over a week after disaster struck.

There is no water, electricity or means of communication and the city has been cordoned off by authorities with a strict curfew in place, as looting is common.

Filipinos have flown in from abroad to search for their loved ones but their efforts are mostly in vain.

Mulvarosa Perote, a 57-year-old grandmother of three, fears her nephew, his wife and their nine-month-old baby were swept away in the storm.

"I told him to move but he didn't listen and we're still looking for them," Mulvarosa said.

It is still impossible to calculate just how many have have perished.

Desperate relatives hold up photos of their loved ones and post photos on to Facebook groups, where missing lists are being compiled and information shared.

Trocaire's Eoghan Rice told how he saw bodies being pulled from the rubble in the streets of Tacloban. With so much work to be done, the corpses were left in body bags on the streets.

Everywhere we travelled we were met by the sight of children lining the roads, walking in the direction of cities in search of food and water.

The children hold out used aluminium cans begging for water, epitomising just how dire the situation is getting on the ground. But the aid is not arriving quickly enough.

Whilst millions starve, red tape is also holding up supplies. Aid workers told how cargoes of vital supplies remain "stuck" in Cebu airport, where most of the aid is landing.

"Customs delays" are being blamed for the 24-hour – and sometimes 48-hour – delays in dispatching the goods to those who need it most.

Despite their dire situation, the Filipinos we encountered, who have lost everything in the storm, somehow manage to maintain their dignity in the midst of the devastation and destruction.

They thank aid workers profusely for their help and share whatever they get with their neighbours.

There is no disorder or fighting at distribution depots and the locals always want to know where the help has come from so they can thank the countries that have donated.

They have already begun to rebuild their homes with whatever energy they have left. One man said the destruction of his home and possessions was "only material".

Unicef Ireland executive director Peter Power described the situation on the ground as a "living nightmare".

"Aid is not arriving quickly enough – and people are doing whatever it takes to get their hands on food," Mr Power told the Sunday Independent.


- Joyce Fegan

Sunday Independent

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