At President Abraham Lincoln's funeral in 1865, the oak tree stood just a few feet from the event, shading the funeral choir.
“In some cases the devastation has been total.” That’s how Philippine Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras describes the scene, after one of the worst typhoons in the country’s history.
There’s little in the way of utilities, food, water or fuel, and thousands are feared dead in the central Philippines. Survivors still appear to be in shock as they pick through the remains of their homes today.
Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks to the BBC’s Alastair Leithead and Dr. Natasha Reyes of Doctors Without Borders, both on the island of Cebu, about the devastation from Typhoon Haiyan. We also hear a piece from the BBC’s Jon Donnison in Tacloban, one of the hardest-hit cities.
To hear the interview with the BBC’s Alastair Leithead, see the audio at the top of the page.
Jon Donnison on the scene just after touching down at the Tacloban airport
“The terminal building, ripped apart in front of me—a mess of broken concrete and twisted metal. The aid operation is underway here, there are choppers trying to distribute it as best as they can. And at the gate of this airport, hundreds of people gathering—they are desperate to get hold of whatever aid they can.”
Dr. Natasha Reyes on the dead bodies in the streets
“No, it is not a health hazard, at least now. What I am more concerned about, as a doctor, are the people who sustained wounds. There are seriously wounded people, and even probably more with minor wounds and minor wounds can become dangerous as time goes by if they are not treated well. It can have infection and it can have tetanus.”
Alastair Leithhead on the island of Cebu
“It is completely dark because all the power is out here. There’s only a little moonlight from behind the clouds and an orange glow of fires that people have lit outside their homes. What an eerie scene actually, there’s the wind whipping in here, there’s battered palm trees … there’s power lines just hanging down, trees, bits of metal, shrubs all scattered around. And this is an area that just was clipped by the typhoon. This isn’t the area that took the full force of it — that is some miles further up the road. That is something that we will have to look at at first light because it is very difficult to go any further in the darkness.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. And we begin in the Philippines, an island country accustomed to extreme weather, but Friday's Typhoon Haiyan was unlike anything before.
At the height of the storm, winds were recorded at 195 miles an hour, gusts up to 235 miles per hour. The military pegs the death toll at nearly 1,000 but others predict it could be 10,000 or more. The BBC's Jon Donnison reports from one of the worst-hit areas, the city of Tacloban.
(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER BLADES)
JON DONNISON: We just touched down at what's left at the airport at Tacloban, the terminal building ripped apart in front of me, a mess of broken concrete and twisted metal. The aid operation is underway here. There are choppers trying to distribute it as best as they can. And at the gates of this airport, hundreds of people gathering. They are desperate to get hold of whatever aid they can.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Now we are so very hungry and thirsty. If you have water or food there, a little food and drink - and water.
(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)
DONNISON: Well, I've come over now to what was the airport's control tower. It's been turned into really a makeshift hospital and people here in agony, a teenage girl having stitches put into a badly damaged leg with no anesthetic and a man in his 30s alongside her with a huge bloody gash in his left foot. I'm going to step inside to the room next to me. This has become, well, a maternity ward. A woman here, she's just given birth to a little girl 40 minutes ago and the woman next to her in labor right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Push, push.
DONNISON: While many people here at the airport rightfully trying to get out, I found Peter Menoch(ph) here. He's here with his father, Philomon(ph), 86 years old and looking in a pretty bad way, both his hands with makeshift bandages on, and he's in a wheelchair.
PETER MENOCH: This is my dad's only chance for life. I said either we have to leave today, or we're going to go somewhere else, but he needs dialysis, and he's been off now for two days, and he's in critical condition. So if the world's out there, send help because these people need it. This is like a bomb had gone off. It's like it had like a nuclear bomb had gone off. I - trees have - it's like God has just scrubbed off the mountain.
DONNISON: This is the main street in the center of Tacloban, and the destruction is almost complete, barely a building a standing, and there's the stench of death in the air. We've seen scores of corpses laid out at the side of the road just in the few kilometers we've driven in from town, and at the side of the road here, just a couple of corpses bundled up in tarpaulin, no one here to bury there.
HOBSON: A very grim scene being reported by the BBC's Jon Donnison.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Well, quite something. Let's bring in Dr. Dr Natasha Reyes, emergency coordinator in the Philippines for Doctors without Borders. She's on the island of Cebu, which is next to Leyte, home to cities like Tacloban. Dr. Reyes, where do you start?
NATASHA REYES: Our biggest concern right now, because we are a medical organization, is that the medical structures are quite strained in Tacloban City. We hear reports of hospitals being damaged and those that are still functional are running out of resources. The medical staff that are still going to work would probably be exhausted by now because some of their colleagues have not reported for work. Maybe some are even unaccounted for.
We also hear reports of medical material and drugs being washed away in the storm surge. So there's very little for them to work with, and they have to deal with all the patients, the wounded from the typhoon. So that's the biggest concern, and that's what they're focusing on right now.
YOUNG: You're missing personnel who may have been killed. You're missing the medicines to work with, and the facilities are gone. So it's just horrific. And the one image, it's just horrifying how many dead bodies we're seeing in the images. But we understand that as horrible as that is, that's not necessarily a health hazard, at least now.
REYES: No, it's not a health hazard, at least now. What I am more concerned about, as a doctor, are the people who sustained wounds. There are seriously wounded people and even probably more with minor wounds, and minor wounds can become dangerous as time goes by if they are not treated well. You can have infection and you can have tetanus.
YOUNG: Tetanus shots. Well, Dr. Reyes, also this is your home country. Are some of your people, maybe even you, in shock? I mean, you've got to jump into action, but this has to be shocking, yeah.
REYES: It is shocking for me. What has really hit me is how desperate people appear and how helpless they appear because I think we're quite a resilient people, and to see people feel completely paralyzed is shocking for me.
YOUNG: Yeah. Natasha Reyes, emergency coordinator for the Philippines for Doctors Without Borders. Thank you so much.
REYES: You're welcome.
YOUNG: And best to you.
REYES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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