Philippines, Tacloban, Typhoon Haiyan, Natural disaster, Jason Strother

It’s been four months since Typhoon Haiyan devastated parts of the Philippines. Worst hit was the city of Tacloban where at least 2,600 persons lost their lives. 

The village, or Barangay, 83-A, is located on the waterfront. The typhoon, known locally as Yolanda, caused a tidal surge that engulfed every home here on November 8th of last year.  

But locals are rebuilding. Olive Cardenas is a midwife who’s worked in this community before and after the storm. “As of now the people are still moving on, recovering… especially their homes, their houses.  But definitely Yolanda still remains in their minds, its not really things to easily forget.  It was a disaster.” 

56-year old Corazon Go says the flood water rose about 3 meters high here. She’s standing in front of a pile of wood and rubble that used to be her small home.

“My house was totally washed away. It was totally destroyed.  I don’t have enough money to rebuild it and I’m just waiting for help from anyone who can give it.”

But her house and belongings weren’t the only precious things Go lost during the typhoon. Seven residents of Barangay 83-A died during the storm and flooding. They include two of Go’s daughters. “It was the last time I saw my daughters.  They couldn’t swim in that water.” 

The body of her one daughter, 33 year old Ellen was recovered. But her other child, 37-year old Eden has not been found. Four months after typhoon Haiyan, the search for the remains of the missing continues.

Specially trained search dogs have been flown into Tacloban from the United States to help with the recovery effort. They’re especially useful in the mangroves behind Barangay 83-A and other difficult terrain. Dog handler Jim Houck is with the group Global D.I.R.T.

“The dogs have been imprinted to know they are looking for a certain scent.  In this case, the specific scent is human remains.  That’s what they’ve been trained with. So what they do is, they’re trained to smell human remains and when they find it, they give an indication which is either a bark or they sit or lay down.”

When remains are found, the team marks the spot with yellow tape.  Later another recovery team will come in and remove the body. “Our hope is we go out and we don’t find any remains.  Unfortunately, we do, we do find remains.”

Finding the remains of the missing is one challenge for Tacloban. Another is identifying the thousands of corpses that were buried in mass graves after the typhoon.

Doctors from around the country are now examining these bodies in hopes of bringing closure to those still searching for lost family. The bodies are then brought to a processing center at a local cemetery. Doctors will perform autopsies there in order to collect genetic material from the remains. Doctor Roberto San Diego leads the team from the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation

“What we did this morning is exhume about 90 bodies and then right now we are placing the bodies in our tent. First of all, we have to check the clothes and find out if there is any identification card then we remove the clothes and then of course we open the body and get the DNA sample.”

Some of the bureau’s doctors say the recovery and identification process is moving slowly due to a lack of manpower. They claim the Tacloban city government isn’t paying laborers needed for the job. Bernardita Valenzuela is a spokeswoman for Tacloban’s mayor. She says the local government is doing the best that it can, but in Typhoon Haiyan’s wake, it’s broke. “The destruction is so massive and widespread. It’s not really enough.  Even though there is well meaning people and organizations who come from abroad, it is not enough. Our resources are very limited.”

Back in Barangay 83-A, locals continue to reconstruct their modest homes and try to get back to their normal lives. And as for Corazon Go, whose daughter’s body has yet to be found, that also means letting go of the past. “After more than 3-months, we’ve lost hope in ever seeing the body of our daughter again.”

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