Hundred days after typhoon, search for bodies still on
TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines—It has been 100 days since Super Typhoon “Yolanda” struck this city, but 65-year-old Pablo Layson is still searching for his wife, Marlyn.
Layson, a resident of Barangay 88 in San Jose district, remains hopeful that he will find her.
“It could be true that she was among those who perished during Yolanda, but I want to find her body so I can bury her according to our Christian tradition,” Layson said.
Sunday marked the 100th day since Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) plowed through Tacloban, killing 2,707 people.
The city’s disaster council said 731 people remained missing since tsunami-like storm surges generated by Yolanda swept them away on Nov. 8 last year.
The estimated death toll of more than 6,000 included only victims who had been identified. Uncounted were those who could not be identified and were temporarily buried in mass graves in Suhi and Basper villages in northern Tacloban.
Yolanda also pummeled Panay Island where 27 victims remained missing: Antique, 15; Iloilo, 12, and Capiz, 1.
The strongest typhoon to make landfall on record, Yolanda displaced more than 4.1 million people in Eastern and Central Visayas, according to the latest report by the United Nations.
It destroyed or damaged 1.1 million houses in the two regions, the UN report said.
On Sunday, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for the Philippines Luiza Carvalho appealed to humanitarian groups and UN member states to continue helping the typhoon survivors.
“The authorities, UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations, and the Filipino people should be commended for the pace of progress that we have seen in the first 100 days,” Carvalho said in a statement. “But we cannot afford to be complacent.”
Carvalho said that among the basic needs of the survivors that should be immediately dealt with was durable shelter.
“The typhoon affected 14 million people and destroyed or severely damaged more than a million homes,” she said.
Carvalho reported that the United Nations distributed tents and tarpaulins to 500,000 families to give them temporary shelter.
She said millions of people needed livelihood assistance, as the typhoon “damaged an estimated 33 million coconut trees, flooded fields with saltwater and took away or wrecked 30,000 fishing vessels.”
So far, Carvalho said, food, medicine, water and sanitation and hygiene assistance had been provided by humanitarian and aid groups, local governments, UN member states and the national government.
“We ensured that vulnerable people had access to protection services and farmers were able to go back to their fields in time to plant. The United Nations and partners helped remove more than 500,000 cubic meters of debris from Tacloban alone,” she said.
But the survivors need a sort of closure to be able to move on, Carvalho said.
And she called on the government to step up its disaster preparedness plans to avoid similar losses and damage should another storm as powerful as Yolanda strike the Philippines.
Search for missing
In Tacloban, the city government said it was giving priority to the search for the missing to give the families a sense of closure.
Ten dogs provided by the Makati City government will help in the retrieval of bodies that may be trapped under typhoon debris, local officials said.
People from the Bureau of Fire and Protection are undertaking the search for bodies. Most of the bodies they have recovered have been found in the San Jose and Anibong areas, the worst-hit parts of the city.
“We want all the missing people to be found and retrieved so that there will be closure and they can be given [proper burial],” Councilor Cristina Romualdez said during ceremonies marking the 100th day after Yolanda.
The event was held at the Tacloban City Convention Center where more than 400 families, many of them residents of Barangay 88, remain living in makeshift tents.
For Layson, only finding the body of his wife could give him closure.
He recalled that he and Marlyn were already at the convention center a day before the expected landfall of Yolanda.
“But in the morning of Nov. 8, she returned to our house to retrieve some important documents. I begged her not to leave because the typhoon was already approaching but she did not listen to me,” Layson said.
He said he did not know whether Marlyn died on her way to their house or perished in their house in Barangay 88, about 7 kilometers away from the convention center.
Unlike in Tacloban, the search for the 27 missing people in Panay has long stopped, according to Rosario Cabrera, Office of Civil Defense in Western Visayas.
Cabrera said there would be no declaration of death until the bodies had been found. But a death declaration could be made if there was confirmation of death, like an eyewitness account of drowning, she said.
Among the missing were eight fishermen, all residents of Batbatan Island, off Culasi town, Antique province.
Culasi, 90 km north of the capital town of San Jose, was among the northern Antique towns severely affected by the typhoon.
The Western Visayas civil defense office reported that 273 people died and 3,924 others were injured when the typhoon swept through the region.
Recovery has been slow in coming for the areas affected by typhoon.
But Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, husband of Councilor Romualdez, said he remained positive that the city would recover and become “a better city.”
Romualdez thanked all the international aid groups that came to the assistance of the typhoon-ravaged city.
“We will show to the world that we will be a stronger city and stronger families and the real and true spirit of being a Taclobanon,” he said.
Romualdez said those who survived Yolanda should be considered heroes, as they survived the typhoon’s power.
He said his administration, with the help of various organizations, had been discussing a master plan for building a better and stronger Tacloban.
Businessman Jack Uy said so much remained to be done in Tacloban to enable the city to fully recover.
“Only 20 percent of our businessmen are now doing business here in Tacloban,” said Uy, president of the Tacloban Chinese-Filipino Chamber of Commerce.
There were 15,000 business establishments operating in Tacloban before Yolanda struck. So far, about 600 have renewed their business permits.
Mayor Romualdez urged the national government to speed up assistance to the city government to enable Tacloban to recover faster.
For one, most of Tacloban is still without power.
Because of lack of power, several businesses have to shorten their business hours, as they rely mainly on generator sets.—With a report from Shiena M. Barrameda, Inquirer Southern Luzon