The devastation that super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) left behind is beyond words to describe. And we may have not seen the worst yet. Many coastal areas in Leyte and Samar provinces have not been reached as of Sunday.
Communication lines are still down two days since the super storm entered the country and levelled homes and other structures in Samar and Leyte on Friday morning.
Government representatives and media teams sent to Tacloban were not heard from for more than 24 hours until the GMA7 team of Jiggy Manicad managed to establish communication using satellite equipment in Palo, Leyte.
The next day, the international Cable News Network showed video footages of the partial extent of devastation, and then the team of ABS-CBN’s Ted Failon was able to report live from Cebu. By Saturday afternoon, we were getting more reports in Metro Manila from other news outfits whose reporters managed to join the Air Force’s C-130 flight on Saturday noon.
As of Sunday morning, the official number of casualties was 151, mostly in Tacloban City. It may be “substantially more,” as President Benigno Aquino 3rd said.
The provincial government of Leyte feared that at least 10,000 of its residents were killed by the ravaging winds and storm surge that was estimated to reach as high as the equivalent of three floors of a building.
Damage to public infrastructure and private properties cannot be quantified yet. Video footages shown on national television networks and pictures in news websites give us an idea of the enormity of Yolanda’s destruction.
As hours pass by, we see more pictures of devastation, of survivors searching for food and shelter, of volunteers extending help. Local authorities were nowhere in the videos or pictures. They were victims themselves, if they survived at all.
Still, the reports were concentrated on Tacloban City and Palo, Leyte. Samar provinces may be as heavily wrecked. According to Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone, the death toll in his province could easily reach 300.
How about in the many other areas that have not been reached?
Our kasambahay, who has relatives in Barangay Canhidoc, Palo, Leyte, has been restless since hearing Friday morning’s radio report that the eye of the super typhoon has reached Tacloban. She has not heard from Linde and Fornillos families who were holding a wake for a relative in their home when Yolanda hit.
Tess wanted to go home right away. But how? The Tacloban airport is completely ruined. Roads are blocked by fallen trees and debris. She is scheduled to go home on December 12 for the first death anniversary of her husband, and to spend Christmas and New Year with her four-year-old daughter. But after Yolanda, she may have to advance her annual vacation as soon as public transportation to Tacloban resumes normal operations.
My sister is also worried about members of her staff manning a resort in Liloan, Southern Leyte. She had instructed them to abandon the resort as early as Thursday afternoon, and seek temporary shelter in a warehouse in Guiuan, a coastal town on the Pacific side of Eastern Samar where Yolanda’s first landfall was recorded.
A Bangkok-based friend has also been uneasy over the fate of her mother and sister and other relatives at V&G, considered the largest subdivision in Tacloban City with the typical one-story housing units.
Leyte is part of the typhoon belt since it faces the Pacific Ocean. But long-time residents and even meteorologists described that Yolanda’s magnitude is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, to make landfall in recent history.
Yolanda has levelled the rich and the poor in the devastated areas. Concrete homes and shanties were flattened. Government buildings and business establishments were wiped out. According to media reports, not a single home was spared in areas in Tacloban City and Palo, Leyte that they have so far reached.
Weather officials said Yolanda packed winds of 235 kph with gusts of 275 kph when it made a landfall on Friday. Its monstrosity has been compared to a Category 4 to 5 hurricane in the US.
The winds were so powerful that concrete structures were torn down, huge trees were uprooted, and homes were flattened.
Because communications lines are still down, authorities could not yet give an assessment of the full extent of casualties and damage. Perhaps it would take a few more days to get a complete picture of the situation.
Watching the situation in Leyte on television has brought to mind a limited experience I had with Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar five years ago. I was in the capital of Yangon the day before the storm came. Nargis was tagged as the worst natural disaster in Myanmar’s recorded history.
By the way, hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are the same thing. They are just called different names in different parts of the world, according to meteorologists.
Nargis reached peak winds of 215 kph as it approached the coast of Myanmar, making it a Category 4 storm, and sent a storm surge 40 kilometers up the dense populated Irrawaddy delta, and left at least 138,000 fatalities and 55,000 missing.
When Nargis hit land on May 2, 2008, my group had left for Bagan, an ancient city about 630 kilometers from Yangon. It was sunny and we were clueless until our flight to Mandalay was cancelled on the third day of our stay. The reason was bad weather in Yangon. So we travelled 180 kilometers by land for five hours to Mandalay.
We watched in the news that there was typhoon in Yangon. The next day, we learned that our flight back to Yangon was cancelled because the airport was closed. TV news said the storm killed three people. Our tour guide has lost communication with her Yangon office and her family.
Flights resumed on May 5, and we were in the first few planes that landed in Yangon. As the plane was landing, we were shocked to see roofless homes, flooded villages, and fallen trees.
Instead of waiting for two hours at the airport for our light back to Bangkok, we hired a van that took us to downtown Yangon. We did not reach the areas hardest hit by Nargis, but from the pictures and video footages shown on international news networks, the destruction in Myanmar was far less than the outcome of Yolanda’s wrath.
But Nargis’s death toll was far higher because the people of Myanmar were not informed about the dangers that the cyclone posed. Reports said Indian authorities had warned Myanmar’s military junta about the dangers 48 hours before it hit the coastal areas, but the public was caught unawares.
In the case of Yolanda, the whole country was informed and advised, but it was the first time that affected areas experienced a storm surge of the magnitude that ravaged Tacloban. Had we known that a storm surge could be that deadly, all living souls in Leyte and Samar provinces should have been forced to move out of the place.
Oh Yolanda, what have you done! It is difficult to imagine how long it will take for Leyte and Samar to get back on their feet. With everybody’s help, they surely will!