By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
Life after Yolanda Log 1
TACLOBAN CITY–“Maligayang pagdating sa Tacloban,” the flight attendant’s voice said over the intercom. Our DHC-8 Q400 plane approached what was left of the terminal of the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport, the end of a dawn trip from Manila that included a two-hour layover in Cebu.
The attendant merely read through the airline’s usual spiel for landings, but it was odd hearing them after the sight that welcomed us from the air: Bare mountains, smoking coastlines, and devastation that grew clearer and larger as the plane descended into the runway.
For the plane’s multinational group of passengers, most of them here to help in relief operations, this was the unwanted greeting they expected to get.
Two small commercial jets like ours were on the tarmac, proof of the effort to ensure Tacloban’s, and consequently, Leyte Island’s connection to the world. That despite the obvious incapacity of its airport. Military personnel took over the smashed-up control tower. A portable radar antenna they brought in scanned the horizon from the runway.
A donated tarpaulin identified the arrival area, which was plastered with announcements for foreigners. There were technical summaries of the ground situation. Other signage gave contact details for certain nationalities. A booth manned by a representative of the United Nations registered their names.
Airport staff did their best to carry on with work. Baggage hauled by cart went inside the terminal and were dropped directly on the ruined conveyor belt. Across a neck-high makeshift divider, one could see departing passengers line up for security checks in plastic tents.
I’ve been to Tacloban once before, but this time I found no recognizable greenery, structure, or even gate outside the terminal. The storm surge brought by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) produced in places a wide stretch of wreckage that could have easily been caused by a massive bomb.
The main thoroughfare from airport to downtown revealed similar scenes. Debris collected in large piles still punctuate the street. Vehicles were hoisted like toys and dropped onto lots that did not own them. Homes dashed by electric posts and trees rendered leafless filled the trip.
The sight is admittedly more bitter for colleagues of mine like Kerch Tan, who grew up here. “We’re used to covering disasters like this, but it’s actually harder to take when you come from there,” she said.
In Manila, we saw those who left to escape any reminder of the horrors they survived. But two and a half weeks after the first images of desolation came out of Tacloban, we’ve seen residents who are trying to stay alive, move on, and make do with what they have left.
The morning we arrived was laundry day for many. Housewives washed their clothes in sidewalks where exposed underground pipes gushed water. Many drew their drinking and bathing supply from pipes that already had faucets attached.
Long lines rose outside ATMs and gasoline stations as small traders began opening up shop. Stalls put up beside the ruins sold items like raw meat, bananas, and cell phone load. The bigger establishments are still closed.
Traffic already gets choked at certain spots. For a mixture of reasons: the long heaps of trash intersecting some streets, the crossing of trucks carrying soldiers and hauling garbage swept up by cash-for-work toilers. Jeepneys and other utility vehicles have already begun plying their routes. A number walking on the street are dressed to go out.
Nearly three weeks since the typhoon, they’re trying to put a semblance of return to normalcy here. But in the words of a city official, it’s already a “new normal”. Nothing was left unscathed after Yolanda.
Most of the residents have to begin again from scratch. Some places are no longer safe to return to. And with day-to-day needs overwhelming government and the helpers from beyond, the long-term needs are still far-off thoughts.
That’s just the face of one city in an entire region laid waste by the world’s worst storm in 2013.