Only when Lynette Lim started to walk into Tacloban City, a few hours after Super Typhoon Haiyan wreaked unimaginable devastation across the Philippines, did she realize how lucky she had been to survive the storm.
“Everything was just flattened,” said Miss Lim, the Asia communications manager for Save the Children, who arrived in Tacloban with a group of aid workers assessing the potential need for help just 24 hours before Haiyan smashed into the city on Friday.
“The water was knee high, and there were bodies floating in the streets,” she said. “I saw several dead children. I’d say two out of every five corpses I saw were kids. Most of the houses were wooden, and they were completely destroyed.
“There were trees and electrical poles strewn across the road and corrugated iron roofing that had been ripped off houses.”
Making her way through the villages south of Tacloban, she discovered the full extent of the horrific damage caused by winds that came close to 200 miles per hour, and storm surges that sent waves as high as the second story of houses crashing ashore.
“Everywhere we went, people told us between 10 and 50 people had been killed in their communities,” said Miss Lim. “Most of the families who had decided to evacuate ahead of the storm left one member behind to guard their homes and possessions. Unfortunately, most of them died.”
Others had decided to disregard government warnings to leave. “They told me they’d seen typhoons before and that they never imagined a storm could be as bad as this one,” she said.
Miss Lim herself had not foreseen how catastrophic Haiyan’s impact would be. “I knew it was coming, but its force was still really unexpected when it arrived at 5:30 in the morning,” she said. “It started with strong winds and heavy rain, and it just got stronger and stronger.”
Despite staying in a government building far sturdier than most of the homes in the city of 220,000 people, Miss Lim felt the full force of the typhoon.
“Windows were shattering, cars were overturning in the car park, and parts of the roof blew off,” she said. “I ended up moving from room to room and then hiding under a table with a pillow over my head to protect myself from flying glass and debris.”
When she did emerge into the open, few government officials or police were in evidence. Many were grieving the loss of their own relatives.
“Bodies in the streets were being cleared away, but there was no one around from the government apart from a few police,” said Miss Lim. “We just tried to help as best we could.” Shocked survivors waded through the filthy, black water in search of missing family and friends, or just aimlessly wandered because they had no homes to go to.
“There was a sense of ‘What do I do now?’” said Miss Lim. “There’s no food, no work to do, no supplies for people to start rebuilding their homes. They couldn’t do anything.”
But soon the shock induced by Haiyan gave way to a growing fury. “Everyone expressed anger that the government wasn’t doing enough for the survivors. Everyone was angry that there was no food and water and that no one was counting the dead, or that there no coordination of relief at all,” said Miss Lim.
Then the looting began. “It was unlike anything I had seen before. Everything people could take, they took. People were filling up grocery carts with what food and water they could find, but also microwaves and televisions, even washing machines,” she said.
As night fell, Tacloban became a city gripped by fear. “It was scary walking around after dark. There were people raiding private homes, and I was worried that I might be robbed,” she said.
By Saturday, Tacloban’s main sports arena, the Astrodome, had become the temporary home for what Miss Lim estimated to be about 15,000 people living in terrible squalor. “It was very shocking to see dead bodies actually in the evacuation center,” she said.
Worse still was the state of the young children: “They were frightened because they had never experienced anything like this. The younger ones were all hungry.”
Yet at least those crammed into the Astrodome and the other makeshift evacuation centers that have sprung up are alive. The mayor and local police estimate at least 10,000 people were killed in the city and its immediate surroundings.
There is still no word from many coastal communities south and north of Tacloban, or from the most remote parts of neighboring Samar Province, where Haiyan first made landfall in the Philippines. “Save the Children’s greatest concern is the people in the coastal areas. We’ve heard of one fishing village called San Jose that has been completely wiped out. That’s probably around 200 people,” said Miss Lim. “If that is the case, then it must be as bad or worse in Samar, because that’s where the typhoon first hit.”
Like everyone else trying to escape Tacloban on Saturday, Miss Lim ended up walking almost 10 miles to the airport. “The road was just miles and miles of devastation,” she said. “The airport was completely packed when I arrived. There were locals, as well as Western, Japanese, and Chinese tourists who were trying to get on military flights out.”
The only consolation for Miss Lim and the other aid workers is that much-needed aid is now beginning to arrive into the airport. “I flew out on a plane that brought in supplies from the World Food Program,” she said. “I hope I can go back again to help, too.”
More From The Telegraph:
- Typhoon Haiyan: world sends relief to battered Philippines
- 'Two out of five corpses are children' says Philippines survivor
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This article by David Eimer was first published by The Telegraph.