In Tacloban, economic hope is another victim of epic typhoon

November 16, 2013

On the outskirts of this city, the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, desperately awaiting food and water, are slowly coming to grips with another loss — their livelihoods.

The Nov. 8 typhoon destroyed huge swaths of property here, reducing Tacloban and nearby towns to skeletal remains and damaging the economic prospects of everyone from office workers to farmers. Fishermen’s boats have been smashed, palm trees toppled and cropland flooded.

Lacking electricity or running water, many people have left for the neighboring province of Cebu or the capital, Manila. Others have headed to their birthplaces — mostly in the poor and insurgency-wracked southern island of Min­danao, which they had fled for the chance of jobs and a kinder life.

In Tacloban, many shops have been looted and now sit empty. In the nearby city of Tanauan, market stalls are soaked and barren.

Ronald Flores, 37, the vice mayor of Tanauan, knows that an economic recovery is critical. “We want to give incentives to investors, but we understand that we must secure the place first, then open the market,” Flores said.

‘Our boats are gone’

Flores said help had been slow to arrive because of the lack of electricity, vehicles and man­power to carry out rescue and relief operations. But he commended the swift response of foreign aid workers, such as a medical team that flew from Mammoth, Calif., and reached Tanauan on Nov. 9.

“They came here all the way from the United States and attended to fractures, did wound suturing and repairs, and carried out Caesarian sections,” Flores said, adding that volunteer doctors and nurses from some Philippine provinces also had arrived.

The typhoon is reported to have killed at least 3,974 people. In Tanauan, where an estimated 1,200 people died, a mass grave was dug in the town plaza to hold bodies.

After an initial delay, relief supplies have been arriving in the bigger cities. But fishermen in Tanauan, spooked by rumors of danger in Tacloban, are afraid to walk there to receive the canned goods and rice being handed out to storm victims. Their shanties in the coastal areas are gone, and they said they are losing faith that their lives could ever return to normal.

“Our boats are gone; we cannot fish,” said Rolando Modeloso, 36, who was waiting on the road with neighbors for a delivery of aid supplies. He said the previous day’s delivery provided for fewer than 50 families.

As he spoke, a neighbor stopped by to distribute old clothes; he and his family were leaving the area to return to Min­danao.

Employees at the Pepsi plant in Tanauan were more optimistic. At the bottling plant, the typhoon shattered only the windows; the roof and equipment were spared.

Ali Arcena, 42, an accounting analyst at the plant, said operations could resume in the next few weeks. The plant, which employs about 100 people, produces 5,000 cases of Pepsi a day, as well as energy drinks, tea and canned diet soda.

The typhoon has provided opportunities for a few. Outside the Philippine Science High School campus, a makeshift shop was doing brisk business repairing punctured motorcycle tires, a major problem as residents travel on roads strewn with shards of glass and nails.

Tourist attractions suffer

In normal times, Tacloban’s population of 217,000 nearly doubles during the day as people from outside the city come in to work. But Tacloban’s fast-food outlets, bars, restaurants and other businesses appear unlikely to reopen anytime soon. Cultural and tourist attractions also suffered heavy damage.

“Outside, it doesn’t look much, but inside, it’s fantastic,” said Annabelle Arpon, a tour guide at the Santo Niño Shrine and Heritage Museum, which houses personal possessions of former first lady Imelda Marcos, whose family is from the area.

The museum has Italian-made beds, Austrian chandeliers, a 20-seat dining hall with carved chairs and tables, and a lavish grand hall — lit by chandeliers and adorned with Ming Dynasty jars, antique Korean cabinets and Russian icons in pure gold. The Tourism Department had previously set aside money to renovate the grounds of the property.

“Of course we are sad,” Arpon said, referring to the damage. She conceded that she is worried that the grounds may never see the planned renovation and that she might lose her job.

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