After Typhoon Haiyan, Guiuan in the Philippines begins rebuilding

November 15, 2013

People swept dirt from the pews and wiped clean the mud-covered, ornate tile floors of a church. The sound of hammers hitting nails and the buzzing of chain saws reverberated in the streets. Debris was piled on corners and set ablaze.

Amid all this activity, a stream of bodies continued their final journey toward a hillside mass grave, where nearly 170 had been buried by Friday afternoon.

One week after Typhoon Haiyan razed the eastern part of the Philippines, killing thousands and leaving at least 600,000 homeless, residents of the disaster zone were rebuilding their lives and those of their neighbors.

An international aid effort gathered steam, highlighted by the helicopter drops conducted from the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. But the storm victims moved ahead — with or without help from their government or foreign aid groups.

Peter Degrido, a coast guard reservist, was one of the 35 workers trying to move an overturned passenger bus from a road leading to the airport in Guiuan, a town on Samar island. They hitched the bus to a truck with steel cables and made slow progress. Ahead of them lay many downed electricity poles.

“We’re clearing debris from the roads leading to the airport and the port so that relief goods and medicine can arrive faster,” Degrido said. “It’s devastating to see this. But people are slowly recovering.”

The Philippines’ main disaster response agency raised the death toll Friday to 3,621, up from the previous figure of 2,360. Most of the casualties occurred on Leyte and Samar islands. The agency said 1,140 people are missing and more than 12,000 injured.

At 6 a.m. Friday, Dionesio de la Cruz, 40, was hammering together a bed, using scavenged rusty nails. He had already built a temporary shelter out of the remains of his house in Guiuan, about 100 miles from Leyte’s devastated capital, Tacloban.

“We’re on our own, so we have to do this on our own,” he said as his wife and mother slept on a nearby table. “We’re not expecting anybody to come and help us.”

Elsewhere in town, one man was selling skewers of meat, and a couple of kiosks were selling soda and soap. Everywhere, freshly washed clothes lay drying in the sun.

Guiuan was one of the first towns hit by the typhoon. It suffered massive damage, but casualty figures were lower than in Tacloban and elsewhere because it was largely spared from storm surges.

In signs that relief efforts were picking up, U.S. Navy helicopters flew from the USS George Washington off the coast, dropping water and food to isolated communities. The U.S. military said it will send about 1,000 more troops along with additional ships and aircraft to join the aid effort.

So far, the U.S. military has moved 190 tons of supplies and made nearly 200 flights.

“Having the U.S. military here is a game-changer,” said Col. Miguel Okol, a spokesman for the Philippine air force. “For countries that we don’t have these kinds of relationships with, it can take a while to get help. But with the U.S., it’s immediate.”

— Associated Press

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