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Saturday 20 September 2014

Horror as children live with dad's decomposing body for a week

Tom Phillips Tacloban

Published 16/11/2013 | 02:00

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An aerial picture taken with a micro-drone camera unit of German NGO International Search and Rescue (ISAR-Germany) shows the roofless Metropolitan Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Palo in the Typhoon Haiyan devastated town, near Tacloban in central Philippines
An aerial picture taken with a micro-drone camera unit of German NGO International Search and Rescue (ISAR-Germany) shows the roofless Metropolitan Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Palo in the Typhoon Haiyan devastated town, near Tacloban in central Philippines

IT WAS on the sixth day that they finally came for Rogelio Esperas, wrestling his decomposing body from a cramped and squalid downstairs bathroom and forcing it into a pitch-black body bag.

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For nearly a week after Typhoon Haiyan, the corpse of the 48-year-old father of four had lain just six feet from the sitting-room in which he had died in full view of his children.

Mr Esperas had been a driver for the family of a well-to-do doctor and home was San Jose, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city of Tacloban that was one of the areas worst hit by last Friday's disaster. When the storm struck, he was at home watching television with his family – his wife, Melissa Ribeira, and four daughters: Roselle (18) Michelene (17) Michela (13) and two-year-old Vhinz.

As winds and water pounded the city, the wall behind them came crashing down. "It fell down but he held it up to help the children escape," recalled Sherwin Cabarce (35), a local policeman and close friend. "When all of them were safe it fell on his body."

Mr Esperas was trapped and the coming surge of the sea lifted up by the terrifying storm drowned him.

With Tacloban's government paralysed by the almost unimaginable scale of the disaster, and the grim task of body collecting only gaining momentum on Thursday, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of local families have spent a week living, quite literally, among their dead.

Despite his appeals to fellow police officers, Mr Cabarce said no government agency had come for his friend. For six days and six nights the family waited for the help that never came.

TRAUMA

As each hour passed, the stench from the room with mud-stained tiles grew stronger.

It is a smell that the people of Tacloban now know only too well: that of a husband or father gradually decomposing in the tropical heat.

Finally, nearly a week after Mr Espera's death, a bright orange truck pulled up outside the rubble-strewn entrance to a house that no longer exists and began extracting his body from the ruins.

There were conflicting reports yesterday about the latest official death toll from Typhoon Haiyan.

The UN placed the number at 4,460, while Manila's National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported 2,360. Hours later, Eduardo del Rosario, a senior civil defence official, gave the figure of 3,621.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Benigno Aquino, the country's president, said initial reports of at least 10,000 fatalities were overblown and probably the result of "emotional trauma".

But a visit to San Jose, where Mr Esperas lived and died, suggests the lower estimates are almost certainly too conservative.

As the rescue workers carried Mr Esperas out of his home, over a wasteland of corrugated iron, his 40-year-old wife clenched her hands around the front gate and began to wail.

Ms Ribeira returned to her ruined family home and briefly smiled as she pondered how the love of her life had made the ultimate sacrifice for his daughters. "He saved us. He saved the kids," she said.

Then words failed her and her face creased into a desperate frown. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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