A monster typhoon that laid waste to the central Philippines wiped out livelihoods as well as homes, leaving small traders and shopowners facing a long and perilous road back to solvency.
In the immediate aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan—one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall—future planning had to be sacrificed for the immediate task of survival in a world without food and water.
For trader Aleda Afable, the choice was to butcher the only remaining cow from a herd swept away in the typhoon-triggered storm surge, or keep the animal that represented the last shred of her investment.
In the end, the dire situation made the decision for her.
“This place probably won’t be rebuilt in months, or even a year,” she said, looking over what little is left of the coastal township of Tanauan on the island of Leyte.
“With relief supplies trickling in slowly, I was forced to butcher the cow,” she sobbed, as two men cleaned the hide and tail—all that was left after sharing the meat with her neighbors who had eaten next to nothing for days.
“This disaster is a great equalizer. There is no more rich and poor, and those who have anything left must be able to share them,” said the mother of two.
The United Nations said early assessments indicated that 5.1 million workers, in 36 provinces, had been affected by the loss of livelihoods.
Afable’s family had been relatively well-off and their three-storey home was one of the few still standing in Tanauan after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) powered through on November 8.
The quiet township was once a bustling community featuring ancestral homes and churches.
Shops that lined the main avenue were reduced to splinters, with debris only beginning to be cleared up eight days after the destruction.
At the main junction leading to the town proper a sign in broken English pleads: “Help us, no food’s typhoon victim.”
On Saturday, emergency crews fished the bloated remains of a woman from the river that bisects the town, while in the square in front of a partially destroyed Catholic church, several bodies in black body bags remained to be collected.
A pawnshop promising low-interest loans still had its sign intact, while families who had lost their homes had taken over a commercial building after the tenants evacuated.
Outside a hardware store that has been damaged but is still standing, 15-year-old Aivee Joy Rosette waited with her cousins for her mother who had gone out to search for something to eat.
“My mother said we’ll try to reopen the shop, but I told her I want to leave this place. I’m still afraid and there is no one left anyway,” she said.
On the neighboring island of Samar, which was spared the worst of the storm surge but battered by the typhoon’s 315-kilometer per hour winds, there are signs of emerging economic activity.
In Guiuan town, a handful of intrepid traders had laid out makeshift stalls on the fringes of the main market square in front of the church.
Some sold freshly caught fish, while other offered eggs, the odd live chicken and some bananas.
And on the road leading to an old military airstrip outside Guiuan, where the US military was flying in relief supplies, people had set up similar small stores laying out wares that appeared to have been salvaged from the wreckage, including muddied Coke bottles, sachets of soap powder and cooking oil.
The congressman for Eastern Samar province, Ben Evardone, said 80 percent of its coconut trees—the base of the region’s economy—had been destroyed and it would take a minimum of three to five years for new plantings to bear fruit.
In Tacloban City, which bore the brunt of the five-meter storm surge, Kenneth Uy, owner of the 50-room Asia Star Hotel, was open for business.
“Many businessmen have left. But I’ll stay. I am from here and this is my city. If we don’t help ourselves, who will?” said Uy.
Having already partially restored power and water in his hotel, Uy had found customers willing to pay the inflated room rate of $100 a night.
As well as members of the police special action force flown in to help secure law and order in the city, international aid agency staff and media crews made up the guests.
“I hope when they come back next time, it is not for work, but for pleasure,” Uy said.