Evacuees in shelters were not safe as Haiyan ravaged Tacloban, the Philippines

Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Yolanda, reached Vietnam Monday after causing massive destruction and claiming untold lives in the Philippines last week. The city of Tacloban in the Philippine province of Leyte has been largely flattened, according to reports from the area, and while overwhelmed authorities have only confirmed 229 deaths as of this moment, estimates of the number of lives lost are orders of magnitude greater. Humanitarian workers were unable to reach many areas, and authorities have not yet established contact with some parts of the country because of the extensive damage:

Entire regions are without food and water, and bodies are strewn on the streets, after a typhoon that had much the look of a tsunami, with waves as high as two-story buildings. Photos and videos showed towns ground to a pulp. . . .

With unconfirmed wire service reports of about 10,000 dead in Tacloban alone, Typhoon Haiyan threatened to become the deadliest disaster in Philippine history, surpassing Tropical Storm Thelma, which killed 5,000 people in 1991. With sustained wind speeds of 150 to 170 mph, Haiyan is among the strongest storms on record.

“Tacloban is totally destroyed,” schoolteacher Andrew Pomeda told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “Some people are losing their minds from hunger or from losing their families. People are becoming violent. They are looting business establishments, the malls, just to find food. I’m afraid that in one week, people will be killing from hunger.”

he latest Philippine government estimates suggest that 9.5 million people — about 10 percent of the country — have been affected, with more than 600,000 displaced from their homes. Many roads remain impassable, according to the U.N. office responsible for humanitarian affairs, and some of the injured have no access to medical care. Even in Tacloban, one of the first areas accessed by aid workers, it takes six hours to make the 14-mile round trip between the airport and the city because of the damage, officials said.

“It is vital that we reach those who are stranded in isolated areas as they are at risk of further threats such as malnutrition, exposure to bad weather and unsafe drinking water,” said Luiza Car­valho, a U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Philippines.

Tacloban, with a population of 220,000, is the capital of Leyte province, a mountainous island roughly the size of Delaware.

Carmela Cruz and Chico Harlan

The government tried to evacuate coastal residents, but in many cases, they were not safe even in the shelters:

Hours before Typhoon Haiyan hit, Philippine authorities moved 800,000 people to sturdy evacuation centers — churches, schools and public buildings. But the brick-and-mortar structures were simply no match for the jet-force winds and massive walls of waves that swept ashore Friday, devastating cities, towns and villages and killing thousands, including many of those who had huddled in government shelters.

The tragedy is another reminder that nature’s fury is sometimes so immense that it can overwhelm even the most diligent preparations. Combine that with a string of unfortunate circumstances — some man-made — and the result is the disaster of epic proportions that the country now faces. . . .

As dire forecasts predicted a storm that would be among the most powerful on record, authorities prepared by evacuating people from flimsy homes along the coast to concrete structures farther inland.

Similar tactics had worked only weeks earlier when powerful Cyclone Phailin struck India’s eastern shore, killing just 25 people as thousands more sheltered in government evacuation centers away from the sea. And Vietnam appeared to have successfully evacuated some 600,000 people before a weakened Haiyan arrived there early Monday.

But Philippine officials had not anticipated the 6-meter (20-feet) storm surges that swept through Tacloban, capital of the island province of Leyte, which saw the worst of Haiyan’s damage. And while many perished in shelters, others ignored the evacuation and stayed put in their homes, either out of fear their property would fall prey to looters or because they underestimated the risk.

Associated Press

Haiyan has weakened significantly, although Vietnamese authorities are still expecting flooding in populated areas, including in Hanoi.

Haiyan was downgraded from a typhoon to a tropical storm by the time it hit Vietnam early Monday. (Associated Press)
Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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