Asia
2:50 am
Fri November 15, 2013

Typhoon Survivors In Tacloban Desperate For Food, Clean Water

Originally published on Fri November 15, 2013 8:49 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One week after a typhoon crashed into the Philippines, hundreds of thousands of people remain homeless. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from the city of Tacloban, where people are getting desperate for food and clean water.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: This morning a long line of people snaked out of the parking lot of the Astrodome, one of the only buildings still standing along the bay front of Tacloban. The queue extended for several hundred yards up a street piled high with debris from the storm. People waited patiently all morning. Women held up umbrellas and pieces of cardboard to shield themselves from the sun.

They've been told that the Philippine Navy would be handing out food, but by midday it was clear the assistance wasn't coming.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We have nothing to eat and that's why we came here. And nothing, nothing happened.

BEAUBIEN: Sixteen-year-old Harvey Albino says he'd been told a food distribution convoy would arrive at 6:00 in the morning. But around noon Albino and the rest of the crowd were giving up.

HARVEY ALBINO: We are really frustrated because what happened here is really a big deal for us because we don't have nothing to eat. We don't have clothes and there are people who are going to Manila just to survive because here, Tacloban City, we don't have anything.

BEAUBIEN: Haiyan, or Super-Typhoon Yolanda, as it's called here, didn't just destroy people's houses; it wiped out grocery stores, flattened restaurants, shuttered banks, knocked out the electricity grid and shut down gas stations. A huge cigarette warehouse on the road to the airport collapsed. Today, scavengers scampered over slabs of concrete trying to extract salvageable packs of Marlboro, Fortune and Jackpot cigarettes, packs that were not soggy with sea water.

The scavengers hauled the smokes out of the wreckage in grain sacks and then skirted off to try to sell them on the street. But many people have far more basic needs than cigarettes. Wilfred Abella says the biggest need for him right now is water.

WILFRED ABELLA: What we need now is the domestic water supply, Tacloban City. They have to restore domestic water supply, that's all I want.

BEAUBIEN: Abalia says he can't clean up his flooded house because there's no clean water. His house is one of the few left standing in the San Jose neighborhood. Now he has three other families living with him, but the place is still inundated with mud from the storm surge. Water, he says, water is key. The mayor of Tacloban, however, skips past food and water and says the greatest need right now is tents.

MAYOR ALBERTO ROMUALDEZ: Tents so we can organize the people that are homeless.

BEAUBIEN: Tacloban Mayor Alberto Romualdez says the tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in his city need somewhere to live to they can stabilize their lives. Just outside city hall where the mayor was speaking, investigators were in the process of bagging up 168 unclaimed rotting cospses. That smell of decomposing flesh permeates the city.

The mayor says tent camps outside the center of the city would give people a chance to get away from the destruction and get on with their lives.

ROMUALDEZ: And if you put them in a tent and they're out of the area, where, you know, it's not smelly and, you know, their hygiene is fixed, we have port-o-lets(ph) there, you know, and we have water there they can drink, they know their children are safe, then they can leave them in their tents and then say, you know, let me go back to our place and let me recover or still see what I can, you know, salvage from the destruction.

BEAUBIEN: Almost every business in Tacloban was shut down by the typhoon. Today, one gas station in the city reopened. Residents waiting outside the station's gates, however, weren't allowed to put gas in their cars.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven...

BEAUBIEN: The ration limit set by the station owner was as much as you can carry by hand. Fuel has been in extremely short supply here since the storm. Aid agencies have said it's been one of the main impediments to distributing relief supplies. Men waited for hours to fill jerry cans and big plastic jugs with gas and then they lugged the gas through the valleys of debris towards whatever they're calling home right now. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Tacloban.

INSKEEP: And our NPR colleague, David Gilkey, has been sending amazing photos from Tacloban, including photos of that gas line. His photos also show the broad sweep of a neighborhood where only a few houses remain standing. You see a coffin in the street with a dog strolling by and you see coroners in a grassy yard working with bodies lined up in the sun. You can see David's photographs at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.