Sunday 25 February 2018

'Two out of every five corpses I saw were children'

David Eimer iin Manila

ONLY when Lynette Lim started to walk into Tacloban City, a few hours after Super Typhoon Haiyan wreaked its devastation, did she realise how lucky she had been to survive the storm.

"Everything was just flattened," said Ms Lim, of the charity Save the Children, who arrived in Tacloban with a group of aid workers assessing the expected need for help 24 hours before Haiyan smashed into the city on Friday.

"The water was knee-high and there were bodies floating in the streets. I saw several dead children. I'd say two out of every five corpses I saw were kids. Most of the houses were wooden and they were completely destroyed."

Making her way through the Filipino villages south of Tacloban, she discovered the full extent of the damage caused by winds that neared 320kmh, and storm surges that sent waves as high as the second storey of houses crashing ashore.

"Everywhere we went, people told us between 10 and 50 people had been killed in their communities," said Ms Lim.

"Most of the families who had decided to evacuate ahead of the storm left one member behind to guard their homes and possessions. Unfortunately, most of them died."

Others had decided to disregard government warnings to leave. "They told me they had seen typhoons before and that they never imagined a storm could be as bad as this one."

Ms Lim had not foreseen how catastrophic Haiyan's impact would be either. "I knew it was coming, but its force was still really unexpected."

Despite staying in a government building far sturdier than most of the homes in the city of 220,000 people, Ms Lim felt the full force of the typhoon.

"Windows were shattering, cars were overturning and parts of the roof blew off. I ended up moving from room to room and then hiding under a table with a pillow over my head to protect myself from flying glass and debris."

When she did emerge into the open, few government officials or police were in evidence. Many were grieving the loss of relatives.

Shocked survivors waded through the filthy, black water in search of missing family and friends, or wandered aimlessly because they had no homes to go to.

"There was a sense of 'What do I do now?'," said Ms Lim. "There's no food, no work to do, no supplies for people to start rebuilding their homes. They couldn't do anything."

But soon the shock induced by Haiyan gave way to a growing fury. "Everyone expressed anger that the government wasn't doing enough for the survivors.

"Everyone was angry that there was no food and water and that no one was counting the dead, or that there was no coordination of relief at all."

Then the looting began.

As night fell, Tacloban became a city gripped by fear. "It was scary walking around after dark. There were people raiding private homes and I was worried that I might be robbed."

By Saturday, Tacloban's main sports arena, the Astrodome, had become the temporary home for what Ms Lim estimated to be around 15,000 people.

Worse still, was the state of the children.

"They were frightened because they had never experienced anything like this. The younger ones were all hungry."

Yet, at least those crammed into the Astrodome and the other makeshift evacuation centres are alive. The mayor and local police estimate at least 10,000 people were killed in the city and its immediate surrounds.

There is still no word from many coastal communities south and north of Tacloban, or from the most remote parts of neighbouring Samar province, where Haiyan first made landfall in the Philippines. "We've heard of one fishing village called San Jose that has been completely wiped out. That's probably around 200 people," said Ms Lim.

The only consolation for Ms Lim and the other aid workers is that aid is now beginning to arrive. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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