TACLOBAN, Philippines (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The impact of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded, on the eastern Philippines city of Tacloban, was “worse than World War II,” when it was a victim of Japanese occupation and Allied bombing, the city’s mayor said on Wednesday.
Typhoon Haiyan smashed into the central Philippines on Friday, devastating Tacloban, the regional capital, wiping out numerous villages and much of the infrastructure, blocking many roads with fallen trees and wrecking communications and local government offices, and displacing more than half a million people.
Five days after the typhoon made landfall, few buildings in Tacloban are standing, the stench of unburied corpses is overwhelming and access to some neighbourhoods is still blocked by debris, hindering relief efforts and slowing clean-up operations. There is no electricity, little food or water, and much of the city of 220,000 has no communications.
Mayor Alfred Romualdez says it will be a huge task to rebuild the city “This is the worst. Everything was hit. I would say 90 to 95 percent (of the city) is damaged,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation, speaking at the Tacloban City Hall where he was overseeing the distribution of water and goods.
“Traffic lights are gone. All the waterways are clogged with debris and bodies. Eighty percent of multipurpose buildings and offices of City Hall are not functioning. So it’s a total makeover, total rehabilitation that needs to happen here,” he said.
Both aid agencies and the government are planning to ramp up their aid efforts, but Romualdez said they are hampered by the lack of vehicles, manpower and fuel, as gas (petrol) stations remain closed.
“Even if we have goods, we don’t have transportation. We have bodies that we have to retrieve, but we don’t have the manpower to do so. If it’s up to us, it’ll take months,” he said.
“I need warm bodies to do that, but at the same time I can’t afford many warm bodies because I don’t have the luxury of resources to feed them,” he added.
Romualdez said that international aid agencies could help meet such needs, but warned that anyone who wanted to help must be self-sufficient before they made their way to the city.
“When you come here, there’s no place to stay. If you’re looking for a hotel, there’s none. If you want a decent toilet, there’s none. Everything is gone. You want a vehicle? We have none. You’ve got to walk,” he said. “This is really ground zero.”
He is, however, confident that the people of Tacloban will demonstrate their resilience and bounce back from the disaster, whose impact was “worse than World War II,” when the city was occupied by Japanese forces and bombed by the Allies.
“I don’t want the people to dwell on what happened, (I want them to) start planning how to open businesses and how to move forward. There’s a lot of help, and my job now is: how do I get this huge amount of help to trickle down to the people,” he said.
“We’re going to fix this city and get our lives back.”
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