Philippines, natural disaster, Haiyan, relief, Jofelle Tesorio and Ariel Carlos

Relief and recovery operations have been in full swing after Typhoon Haiyan hit the central Philippines.

Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, was one of the strongest typhoons to ever hit the country.

Nationwide, the death toll has reached nearly 4,000 people with more than one thousand missing.

The coastal areas of Tacloban, Leyte, the hardest hit province, has been left in ruins, with flattened houses and streets littered with debris.

Typhoon survivors gather in an open area to receive much needed food, water and other aid.

The Philippine’s Red Cross was among the first relief organizations to land on Leyte after the airport and roads had been cleared.

But the group’s director, Richard Gordon, says it’s still difficult to reach the more remote areas.

“We’ve not been able to provide food adequately… It’s very hard to reach everybody… The challenge is bringing them all between Cebu by air or by boat to get to Tacloban and to the peripheral areas.”

“The areas that are facing the Pacific Ocean which have been badly damaged…”

Tacloban was one of the cities hit hardest by the typhoon. No building has been left untouched.

President Benigno Aquino III is now in Leyte Province overseeing relief and recovery operations.

“Am I satisfied with the pace of the relief operations? I’m never satisfied when it comes to addressing the needs of our people. Whatever is achieved now I always try to increase the efficiencies of all systems of government. But again, this was in a sense a typhoon of such magnitude and such strength that it really overwhelmed the systems that were already in place...”

Several days before the typhoon hit the central Philippines, he broadcast a warning on national television.

“The waves could reach as high as 5 to 6 feet in the affected areas. Defence secretary Volt Gazmin and Interior secretary Mar Roxas are already in Leyte to lead the preparations for the landfall of Yolanda. All our disaster coordinating councils, local and national are also preparing…”

But many thought it would be just another typhoon…. The country normally experiences around 20 a year. Preparations were scant and not all the would-be-affected residents were evacuated to safer ground.

As a result, the province of Leyte and its neighboring islands suffered the most damage.

More than 3,000 people were killed and almost an entire coastal community was wiped out.

Relief groups are facing enormous challenges to help the victims, says Philippines Red Cross director, Richard Gordon.

“Initially it was the fact that we had no information. Second, there is no telephones, no cell phones, there is no communication…Third, there are a lot of debris on the streets…electric posts, trees, even houses in the middle of the streets that have been blown away. It was quite hard to get in…”

Because of the country’s topography, its many scattered islands, getting relief to the affected areas will take time.

President Aquino says he’s thankful for international aid.

“One of the first countries that helped was the United States of America. We have three C130s in our Airforce and they provided massive lift capability...They actually sent a carrier battle group together with all components... that enable us to reach in more timely manner all of these isolated island villages and municipalities...”

In Palawan province, the artists’ community is also doing its bit by organising a benefit concert that will help areas that have not been the focus of attention.

“We thought we would do an art fair where we would sale art works at a lower price but the proceeds would go to calamity fund,” says one of the organizers, Dinggot Conde-Prieto.

Musician Pat Marquez has composed a song for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

“The title of the song is ‘This is the Time’,” he says.

“I have noticed that the government has been very slow in its response, in reaching the affected areas. So I thought of composing a song about the devastation in other areas like Coron so people can be inspired to help the victims.”

With a typhoon of this magnitude, it will take time to rebuild lives and homes….but there is hope. For the moment, however, they need all the help they can get...

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