Monday, 11 November 2013

Typhoon Haiyan: reports of mass graves in Iloilo, difficulty coping with the number of deaths

There is no functioning morgue here, so people have been collecting the dead from Typhoon Haiyan and storing them where they can — in this case, St. Michael The Archangel Chapel.

Ten bodies have been placed on wooden pews and across a pale white floor slick with blood, debris and water. One appears to have foamed at the mouth. One has been wrapped in a white sheet, tied to a thick green bamboo pole so that people could carry it, and placed on the floor.

One body is small, and entirely covered in a red blanket.

"This is my son," says Nestor Librando, a red-eyed, 31-year-old carpenter. "He drowned."

Librando had taken refuge in a military compound nearby by the time the typhoon's storm surge poured in Friday morning. For two hours, the water rose around him. He held his 2-year-old son in one arm, his 3-year-old son in the other.

But the torrent proved too strong, and swept the family out of the building. The water rose above Librando's head and he struggled to swim. His younger son slipped from his hands and was immediately pulled under the water.

"I found his body later, behind the house" in the courtyard, sunken in the mud, he says.

"This is the worst thing I've ever seen in my life, the worst thing I could imagine," Librando says. "I brought him to this chapel because there was nowhere else to take him. I wanted Jesus Christ to bless him."

The chapel is close to the Tacloban airport, in an area where the storm felled and shredded a vast bank of trees. The water moved with such force that light poles beside a dirt road are bent to the ground at right angles.

The airport partially reopened on Monday 11 November, three days after the typhoon, but only for flights carrying relief supplies and equipment. The airport has also become a makeshift morgue for the growing number of bodies.

At a lakeshore west of the airport terminal, three bodies lay among the rocks. A man, wearing blue shorts and lying face down. A child with yellowed arms grasping skyward. A tiny baby, sprawled on its back.

More bodies lay along a muddy beach nearby. A dead man in jeans leans forward, his head in the water, his back feet somehow perched frozen above the sand and mud behind. Beside him, a child in a diaper lays partially covered by a palm frond, beside wood, debris and a green crate labeled San Miguel Brewery.

There are survivors here, too, including 22-year-old Junick de la Rea. He says the water swept him and five of his relatives off a rooftop where they had fled, but they all survived by grabbing a bunch of plastic and metal containers that happened to float by.

"Please, can you help me?" de la Rea asks a reporter. "I want you to send a message to a friend of mine," a friend who works for the German Red Cross Union.

His message: "We survived. I want to say we survived. ... We lost everything. But we are still alive — and we need help."

Bodies recovered in Iloilo buried in mass graves

“I just want to find my husband and bring him home,” said Margie Molina.

But she was also hoping that her search would not end at the morgue of Crisme Funeral Services where 20 unclaimed cadavers of victims of “supertyphoon Yolanda” (international name Haiyan) have been brought since Friday.

Margie failed to find her husband Eliseo Molina Jr. and was told to look for him at the municipal cemetery where mass graves were being dug for the decomposing bodies.

She rushed to the cemetery along with Edgie Francisco who was also looking for his father Eduardo Francisco. She feared the worst for her husband and worried how she would cope with such a loss, with three children aged 8, 7, and 4 years old to raise.

Eliseo Molina and Eduardo Francisco were crew members of the fishing boat “Segundo Wheeler,” which capsized near Apad Bay in Estancia at the height of the onslaught of the typhoon last Friday.

The crew had sought refuge at the bay but the strong winds threw the boat up three times before it was slammed upside down, according to Margie, quoting accounts of surviving colleagues of her husband.

Estancia, 153 kilometers northeast of Iloilo City, was among the worst hit towns in Iloilo.

Municipal officials have reported the recovery of 71 bodies as of Monday morning, more than half of the 133 fatalities reported for the entire Iloilo province.

The unclaimed bodies, including about 25 fishermen believed to be from Masbate, were buried in mass graves on Sunday. The fishermen died after their boats anchored at the port of Estancia were thrown up and slammed against the port by a storm surge.

“We are still picking dead bodies from the sea,” said Erol Acosta, municipal budget officer.

At the coastline, the smell of decomposing bodies mingled with diesel fuel odor. A hand stuck out from the debris.

The storm surge broke moorings of a power barge of the National Power Corp. (Napocor) and slammed the barge against the coastline, crushing several houses. Residents said bodies were still pinned under the barge.

The barge leaked diesel fuel, which coated the coastline and has been threatening the health of residents and marine life.

The barge has a maximum capacity of 1.2 million liters of diesel fuel, according to James Abayon, Napocor maintenance officer.

Coast Guard personnel were rushing the putting up of more oil spill booms to prevent the spread of the oil spill.

Estancia Mayor Cordero said they did not know where to evacuate the residents affected by the oil spill because even schools and other buildings, which were supposed to be evacuation centers were destroyed.

The town, known as the “Alaska of the Philippines” because of its seafood industry and popularity as a fish trading center, has been paralyzed after the typhoon cut off electricity and communications.

The first relief assistance started to arrive only late Sunday afternoon, two days after the supertyphoon, because roads were blocked by uprooted trees and electric posts.

Only a few roads have been cleared of debris, fallen trees and electric posts even in the town center as town officials grappled with the overwhelming destruction and the number of residents seeking assistance. Many villages were still inaccessible from the town center.

Residents were dependent on two water refilling stations for potable water and rice and food was running out.

“At least 99 percent of houses and other structures were destroyed or damaged,” Cordero said.

Several other northern towns of Iloilo have been devastated and are desperate for food, water and other relief assistance. Most of the province was still without electricity and access to communication.

The delivery of relief assistance has also been hampered by impassable roads, with many portions of the national highway from Iloilo City littered with fallen trees.

Many electric posts were toppled and thrown from one side of the highway to the other. Electric lines were being used to hang clothes by residents who lost their homes and were staying along the road.

Government agencies have sent initial food assistance to island-barangays by helicopter and by Navy boats because thousands of motorboats were destroyed, cutting off the island-barangays from the mainland.

Monday 11 November 2013


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