Typhoon kills 10,000 in ‘I shall return’ region

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  • Published 11.11.13
Debris and ruins of houses destroyed after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines on Sunday. (Reuters)

Tacloban, Nov. 10: One of the most powerful storms ever recorded, super typhoon Haiyan is believed to have killed as many as 10,000 people and left not a single house untouched in central Philippines’ Tacloban city.

Tacloban is near the Red Beach on Leyte Island where Gen. Douglas MacArthur waded ashore on October 20, 1944, in one of the biggest Allied victories of World War II. MacArthur fulfilled his famous pledge, “I shall return”, made in March 1942 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered him to relocate to Australia as Japanese forces pushed back US and Filipino defenders.

The typhoon hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippine archipelago on Friday and barrelled through six eastern and central islands before exiting into the South China Sea, packing ferocious winds of 235kmph and gusts of 275kmph.

Even by the standards of the Philippines, which is buffeted by many natural calamities — about 20 typhoons a year, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions — the latest disaster shocked the impoverished nation of 96 million people and revived memories of the Asian tsunami of 2004.

“The last time I saw something on this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami,” Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, the head of a UN team, said in a statement. “This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumbleweed.”

“People are walking like zombies looking for food,” said Jenny Chu, a medical student in Leyte. “It’s like a movie.”

Most of the deaths appear to have been caused by surging sea water strewn with debris, levelling houses and drowning hundreds of people.

The national government and disaster agency have not confirmed the latest estimate of deaths, a sharp increase from initial estimates on Saturday of at least 1,200 killed by a storm whose sustained winds reached 313kmph with gusts of up to 378kmph.

“We had a meeting last night with the governor and the other officials. The governor said, based on their estimate, 10,000 died,” Leyte police chief superintendent Elmer Soria said. “The devastation is so big.”

Nearly 480,000 people were displaced and 4.5 million “affected” by the typhoon in 36 provinces, the national disaster agency said, as relief agencies called for food, water, medicines and tarpaulins for the homeless.

If the typhoon death toll is confirmed, it would be the deadliest natural catastrophe on record in the Philippines. The deadliest typhoon before Haiyan was Tropical Storm Thelma in November 1991, which killed around 5,100 people in the central Philippines. The deadliest disaster so far was the 1976 magnitude-7.9 earthquake that triggered a tsunami in the Moro Gulf in the southern Philippines, killing 5,791 people.

Tacloban was the first city to be liberated by US and Filipino forces and served as the Philippines’ temporary capital for several months. It is also the hometown of former Filipino First Lady Imelda Marcos, whose nephew, Alfred Romualdez, is the city’s mayor.

Today, men, women and children tread carefully over splintered remains of wooden houses, searching for missing loved ones and belongings.