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In The Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan Lingers

On Wednesday, Nov. 13, we turned to the Philippines to check in on how the relief efforts for Typhoon Haiyan are fanning out in the country’s devastated  Eastern Visayas region.

Our first guest, CNN’s Ivan Watson, is reporting on the ground in the Philippines, and he offered a sober take on what this typhoon looks like. He called us from Cebu City in the central Philippines, where he’s been covering the typhoon for CNN.

“The official figures are that some 2,275 people have been confirmed as victims slain by this storm and its aftermath. But we’re still getting eye-witness accounts of bodies lying out in the open in the largest population center to have hit by this super typhoon, that’s the city of Tacloban, so we can probably anticipate for that tragic number to continue growing.

I think one of the biggest challenges has been simply information and communication. I was very struck working over night from Tuesday to Wednesday night here throughout the night at the air base nearby here, which has been sort of a logistical hub for the typhoon stricken area. I was struck to have met a number of young volunteers from Eastern Samar, that’s an island that was also struck and parts of it were the first place for the storm to make landfall. And these young men and women had collected their own food donations that they were hoping to send to their hometowns, many of them from Guiuan which was again one of the first towns to be hit by the typhoons, and these young men and women, most of them had not had any communication with their families in their hometowns after five days after the typhoon. If you can imagine the fear and uncertainty they were feeling, and the fact that they were basically doing what they thought they could do best, which was just try and send food over to that area. One of those young men, in the last eight hours I spoke with him, thankfully had finally gotten a phone call from his father, some kind of telecomunications had been restored for his father to call and say, ‘Yes we’re still alive.'”

While relief efforts continue apace (you can find our list of aid organisations working in the region here), those efforts have been delayed by transportation gaps in the island nation.

“As of Tuesday, the Philippines air force could not fly into the main airport in that town of Tacloban after dark, the operations were limited between dawn to dusk. I’m looking at now, the Philippines armed forces says that lights have been installed there and they’ll be able to work 24 hours, so that is  definitely an improvement. We know that ships are starting to move into the area. I think the more isolated communities, the smaller population centers are having bigger problems. Because the roads we’re hearing are still difficult to maneuver, due the debris on the roads, and they don’t have the benefit of having an air strip or an airport there where some of the aid is being focused. So the big challenge here is how to get out into these islands here. This is an island nation, and that makes travel and transport more difficult. You have to travel by sea, you have to travel by air in many cases to navigate to get from one island to another and those are the links that were damaged in this storm.”

Watson also said that Filipinos of all ages have told him just how unusual and extreme Typhoon Haiyan was in a country already familiar with typhoon-level storms.

“I flew into Tacloban, this city of more than 200,000 inhabitants on Sunday in a small plane accompanied by the director of basically the Philippines’ equivalent of the FAA who was trying to figure out how to reopen airports. When we were looking from the sky and when we landed this guy, he’s a former commander of the Philippines’ air force, he said to me, ‘I’m 70 years old, I’ve never seen anything like this before.’ And that’s been a mantra that’s been repeated by every Filipino I’ve met. Not only the areas in the East that were hit by the storm surge — this wall of ocean water that seems to have been the biggest cause of death and destruction in the East — but also further in the West, in islands that I’ve visited that weren’t nearly damaged as much, but were hurt by high winds that ripped off roofs. Everybody across the board said they’ve never seen a storm, anything like this before.

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