On the day Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, Dr. Ionne Castillones, a Filipina who has worked with Handicap International on several previous disaster relief operations, was in the city of Cebu, about 50 miles south of the typhoon’s eye. The next day, she traveled to Tacloban, the city hardest hit by the storm, to survey the damage. She shares her memories of those first traumatic few days following the typhoon.
I couldn’t believe what the news was saying—I thought it was exaggerated. I was here in 2009 when Typhoon Hondoi hit us, and I couldn’t imagine it being worse this time. But the next day as I reached Leyte Island I saw that the news was not exaggerated.
The scene was apocalyptic. Not one building was left undamaged. Dead bodies were lying in the streets everywhere; some were being chewed up by dogs. The first 500 yards I walked, I came across four people, each one in a visible state of trauma, talking out loud to themselves and shaking.
I thought when people said that everything had collapsed it was a way of speaking, but it wasn’t. Even the hospital buildings were too damaged to function. The few clinics who welcome injured people don’t have electricity and can very little in comparison of the needs of the population.
Relief workers are doing their best but you have to imagine that this is unprecedented. Nowhere have such strong winds ever been recorded and it was impossible to prepare for it.
Very few vehicles remain functional and most are lacking fuel. Many injured people are unable to reach the few remaining hospitals, and so stay home without receiving first aid or antibiotics. People with disabilities are carried out on the backs of men, because they have no way to move away from what used to be their house.
We are only starting to see the aid really reach the population and it will take a lot of time and investment to help people recover from this.