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Anderson Cooper and a call for mercy flights

/ 02:17 PM November 14, 2013

“I don’t know where to begin,” a survivor told CNN star journalist Anderson Cooper when he landed in Tacloban City five days after supertyphoon Yolanda (international name, Haiyan) slammed into eastern and central Visayas leaving towns flattened and thousands dead. Hardest hit among the 40 areas battered by Yolanda was Tacloban City which took the brunt of the five-hour storm surges, reducing the beautiful city by Cancabato Bay into a wasteland.

Anderson Cooper is CNN’s lead news reporter and anchor. A self-confesssed news junkie before he made it to the international news cable channel’s newsroom, he has covered wars, political and civil conflicts and large scale tragedies around the world. I think he knew what was coming when he went to Tacloban and had mentally prepared a standard introduction.

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Anderson arrived in Manila on Monday and was expected to give updates from ground zero, but tropical storm Zoraida stopped him from flying to Tacloban. I caught him on CNN Monday morning reporting from the Manila International Airport (possibly Terminal 3) explaining the slight delay in his schedule but within hours he was off and running in the Leyte capital.

From the center of Tacloban City, Anderson saw for himself what colleagues described in earlier reports– angry and hungry people who cannot find food and water; still no electricity but cell phone signals have been restored. Many dead bodies and mountains of wreckage remain uncollected throughout the main streets and inner villages.

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At that moment, I think images from Cooper’s previous assignments of the wars in Bosnia, Croatia, Afghanistan, Israel, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar and large scale accidents that happened elsewhere entered his mind like a file that flipped page by page. I guess he was so overwhelmed by the devastation and human misery that recollected catastrophes, although crushing in many respects, had become two or even ten notches lesser compared to what he was seeing in Tacloban.

He might have been tempted to open his spiel with a bewildered expression except that the first survivor whom he interviewed beat him to the draw.

“I don’t know where to begin,” said the woman who lost her husband and three children. Her three other offspring remain missing.

She then led him to her “barong-barong” (makeshift house) located some distances away from what used to be the city’s shopping center. Beside the hut she placed the dead bodies of family members wrapped in plastic bags. Burial remains uncertain because during the day she would look for her three missing children. In the evening, she retreats to the barong-barong and is too tired and hungry to mind the stench of decomposing bodies beside the hut. CNN had the interview edited and replayed during the day with the caption, “I don’t know where to begin.”

A little later, Anderson was reporting from the city’s main center to announce that the first military contingent had arrived in Tacloban to help in rehabilitation works.

Yolanda’s destructive fury and the slow response of the government to come to the aid of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the supertyphoon especially in Leyte and Samar are being reported round-the-clock by CNN.

This is the perspective of the updates and although news anchors are cautioned not to editorialize or make opinions, I am quite sure my international media colleagues are wondering what the government has done five days into the tragedy. There has to be an explanation because people are crying, begging and foraging for food like animals, exposed to the elements day and night, dead people continue to litter the streets, and relief efforts are not reaching the distressed population six days now into tragedy.

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We ought to thank international news networks for staying focused on the Philippines. Their coverage of the supertyphoon prompted foreign countries and private groups to respond immediately with massive humanitarian aid. The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Vatican and many more foreign governments donated millions of dollars and other forms of logistical support.

We are grateful for their compassion and support, but this could not have been immediately possible without the heroic efforts of international media. Their coverage complements the work of local media institutions which went beyond news reporting. Many ran parallel relief campaigns in the middle of their coverage.

Their compassion and generosity strengthen our faith and keep our hopes alive.

* * *

This is a call for mercy flights.

Unless they are already into it, I call on airline companies to come to the rescue of our distressed brothers in Samar and Leyte. Thousands have already left their devastated villages and thousands more want to flee but they cannot get out because after losing everything, they have no money for air ticket.

Military aircrafts that fly in and out of Tacloban provide free passage but the C-130 planes are very limited. They prioritize the sick and the elderly. People are crying to be airlifted.

I hope that commercial airliners will be moved to provide free air transport. Philippine Air Lines, Cebu Pacific and budget airliners can either open special mercy flights for a number of days or give at least 10 mercy seats per scheduled flight when they land in Tacloban, perhaps until December this year.

The survivors can choose to go to Cebu City or Manila where their relatives can adopt them in the meantime.

Airline companies, have a heart, please!

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TAGS: Anderson Cooper, CNN, column, opinion, Supertyphoon Yolanda
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