By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
Life after Yolanda, Log 2
TACLOBAN CITY–They’ve been there for two weeks. After chasing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) southward–from Albay to Sorsogon and across the channel to Samar, one of our news field operations teams drove to the Tacloban Airport and set up ABS-CBN’s second satellite live point in the city on November 14.
The terminal had been inundated with the influx of rescue and relief operations from outside and the exodus of desperate residents from the city. Crowds of people begged for space in the departing military planes. Reports said President Aquino would also arrive.
The wrecked airport was where this calamity story was moving, and even international news services like CNN were already airing live reports from there. Our setup at the provincial capitol could not move elsewhere for security reasons. Plus, the requirements of an anchor and 5 reporters were too much for just one.
The only spot the team of 15 could find for their broadcast setup was beside the ruins of an eatery. Their other choices were risky all the same. Around them were more wreckage and unpicked cadavers. Even the area they picked had to be cleared of trash and debris.
The combined smell was sickening. “There were dead people, dogs, cats, even excrement,” recalled Toto Rubino, the team’s light man. “Trucks that carried corpses would pass in front of us. The sap from the bodies dripped on the road.”
But their spot was near the mass of people trying to catch free C130 plane rides. The team stood the sights and smells to deliver Atom Araullo’s live update that night.
I arrived two weeks after, taking over from fellow field producer Jomar Dimbla. The team had already erected two camping tents to sleep in atop the tiling of the eatery. The sole folding tent they used to protect the reporter and equipment during live stand-ups now housed laundered clothes hung out to dry. To cover up the rest of their work area, they roped plastic tarpaulin and metal roofing to a fallen tree trunk.
Two tables pulled from the debris became their kitchen and dining area. A public telephone post turned into a supply cupboard. Two rice cookers they bought in Bicol got power from their setup generator. A toppled electricity post served as a bench.
With few supplies and nowhere to buy from, their first meals were noodles and canned goods handed to them by relief groups. While the broadcast team handled the video feeds and live updates, the drivers cooked and washed the dishes.
It was difficult to eat though. There was the stench from the corpses and portable toilets nearby. In plain sight were wounds and injuries being treated at the neighboring tent of the Department of Health. And even as workers from the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) regularly cleaned the place, trash kept piling up.
Taking a bite or a sip from the little supplies available had to be done discreetly, especially in the days after the storm.
The setup I arrived to was still decrepit but less smelly. The boys used iron roofing to separate them from the pile of garbage being thrown from the DOH tent. Plastic containers were regularly filled with water drawn from an exposed pipe along the road.
The C130 hitches were already ending. Only relief workers and family of essential personnel could fly. But people still lined up hoping to be exempted. Tarpaulins were hung to shield what number they could from the weather. When it rained, the pavement around the setup turned muddy.
Some who lined up found shelter at our cramped setup during the downpour. Others got to recharge their mobile phones and flashlights when our generator was on. And if there was extra food to spare (which was not everyday), the hungry were offered a bite.
The airport already resembled a big scouting jamboree. At the exit, the tents of volunteers from foreign countries were laid out on a recently-concreted field. The distinctive colors and designs gave away their nations of origin. They had separate areas for their quarters, offices, kitchens, and supplies–a far cry from our make-do setup.
At night, the only lights at the airport came from a revolving lantern on top of the control tower and from floodlights at the runway. If one looked to the direction of Tacloban City proper, one saw only stars.
It was too late and too far to travel to a hotel room, which was also scarce at the time. And so, our car seats turned into beds and our jackets into blankets. Other teammates stretched out inside the tents which smelt of burning anti-mosquito coil.
Surrounded by flashing lights, the occasional din of plane engines, and the stark starlit silence in between, we tried to sleep what hours we had left until the next live update.
It turned out to be our last camp-out at the bombed-out airport. The next day, we were told to pack up and move our setup closer to downtown.