Connect to share and comment
GlobalPost exclusive: A trip through remote East Samar — a former surfing Mecca — reveals residents desperate for relief.
EAST SAMAR, Philippines — It’s been five days since mega-Typhoon Haiyan stampeded across the Philippine central islands, leaving hundreds of thousands stranded without shelter, desperate for food, medical care and other vital relief.
Yet aid has only just started trickling in. While media attention has focused on destruction and looting in the provincial capital of Tacloban, the situation is particularly dire here in the more remote areas along the eastern coast.
Haiyan, which made landfall on Friday with winds exceeding 170 miles per hour, wrought destruction across the central Philippines. One of the strongest typhoons on record, the Philippines government currently reports a death toll exceeding 2,000, a number that could climb substantially.
So far, most of the casualties have been recorded in Leyte and Samar, the islands first hit by the storm. But here in isolated East Samar areas such as Hernani and Guian, supplies and relief workers have been slowest to arrive.
On a drive through East Samar, GlobalPost witnessed the region’s grave status.
The Pacific coastal village of Hernani is now completely unrecognizable. All structures, concrete and wooden, have been completely flattened. Nothing remains except beams.
One resident, who identified himself as Ronaldo, survived along with his family of eight by swimming when the 30-foot wave washed through their neighborhood. They are now working to rebuild the lives they once had, hammering together a house out of storm debris. With aid in short supply, they ration a bowl of coffee sachets, instant noodles and stale rice.
When the storm approached, 73-year-old Roban Isip, who owned a beautiful house by the sea had chosen to be evacuated to the nearby municipal hall. That flooded as well, but at least he was safe. All that remains of his house is the floor and one beam, from which his clothes — his last remaining possessions — hang drying.
In Batong, a neighborhood of Hernami, only six out of the 192 households are still partially standing. The others have been reduced to rubble, which typically reaches two-stories high. “The houses were built very close to each other so when the wind and water came they all fell like dominos,” said resident Sonia Bagwang.
So far, Batong residents have counted eight dead and 35 missing, out of the total population of 784. The villagers are slowly clearing up the rubble, where they expect to find the missing corpses.
“There used to be lots of foreigners here. It used to be such a beautiful place to swim and play on the beach but now no one goes there. The children are too scared to swim.
“This place now has no life. Neighbors steal from each other. But our community is doing a good job in helping each other out,” said Zokia Pangilinan, a Batong resident.
Melchor Margal, mayor of Salcedo, another village along the East Samar coast, reported 31 casualties including the missing. “I’ve just counted the missing as dead now as its already been four days,” he said.
In the village, which has a population of 20,358, nearly all of the 5,000 houses were demolished. According to Margal, two sub-villages of Salcedo have been completely leveled. They now sit under about 1,000 feet of sand.
“At times like this it is hard to keep your head. I do small things like wash my clothes to keep my mind sane,” he said.
At this point, there’s one question on everyone’s mind: When will the aid get here?
The global outpouring of empathy has been enormous. Twenty-three countries along with a number of international organizations have already sent shipments of assistance to victims, and even more major international relief teams are expected to arrive in the coming days. As roads are cleared of debris and runways become accessible, locals hope that the wait will soon come to an end. But for now, each hour seems an eternity.
Patience runs out
Progress has even been sluggish in Tacloban, the capital of Leyte, which suffered extreme damage and a high number of casualties. In some areas, the Philippines’ cherished solidarity appears to be at work. In others, survivors riven by hunger and thirst have resorted to looting, or to waiting in endless queues at the local airport in hopes of fleeing.
“I heard three days ago that aid had arrived in the