Work begins on clear-up of Philippine typhoon devastation
Roads are being cleared, food and medical supplies being distributed
Filipinos carry boxes with aid from the US relief organisation US Aid in a remote village near the eastern Samar town of Guiuan yesterday. Photograph: Wolfgang Rattay / Reuters
The scale of what has happened here is brought home very visually from the air. A journey from Cebu to the narrow peninsula on southeast Samar, on which sits the town of Guiuan, shows it all so clearly.
Most of the island of Cebu escaped the worst of what Typhoon Haiyan threw at the central Philippine islands over a week ago, save for the northern tip. But the neighbouring islands of Leyte and Samar were hammered.
The US Air Force Dornier 328 follows the coast of Cebu as it heads initially north. Looking down, the dense tropical vegetation that covers the landscape blankets it like a snug eiderdown of sphagnum moss. But passing over Leyte south of Tacloban, the landscape below looks almost naked.
Some vegetation has survived, but it is little more than splintered matchstick stumps of coconut palms, snapped by the storm.
It is the same looking down on southern Samar and when the Guiuan peninsula hoves into view, it’s the same again only much worse. As the aircraft drops onto the town’s tiny airstrip, it passes over shoreline communities that simply are no more. All that is left are the smashed remains of homes, a flotsam of debris.
The Dornier is rigged out to carry passengers at the front, with the rear reserved for cargo. However, instead of 18 passengers up front, there are only a few of us. . . and 828 bottles of water. The rear contains many more, but what our little plane is carrying is nothing to what is now passing through daily – in and out – of the tiny airstrip.
On a raised bank at one side of the runway, a makeshift air traffic control has been set up by the Americans, red wind sock and all, as a steady stream of big lumbering C130 transporters bring in supplies – mostly food, water, medicine and tarpaulins, the means to create temporary shelter.
An equally steady flow of H60 helicopters and Ospreys – the strange-looking fixed wing vertical take-off transporters that are a sort of marriage between a plane and a chopper – ferry the aid around the peninsula and further north into Samar proper.
Despite the near-deafening noise from all the aircraft, a big crowd of local people hang around the airstrip, the greatest show in town . . . and certainly better to watch that what’s in town itself.
Sadly, it is the familiar battlefield landscape of smashed homes and wrecked communities, of people sitting hunkered down at the entrances to what once were their homes, of people seemingly wandering the streets not entirely knowing where to start.