Haiyan still haunts survivors

Paying respects: People visiting the cemetery for victims of Haiyan in Tacloban city, Leyte province. — AFP

Paying respects: People visiting the cemetery for victims of Haiyan in Tacloban city, Leyte province. — AFP

Tacloban: Philippine survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan recalled their terror and loss while gathered at a mass grave for thousands killed five years ago in the country’s worst storm on record.

Then the strongest storm to ever hit land, Haiyan left more than 7,360 people dead or missing across the central Philippines with its tsunami-like storm surges wiping out communities and triggering a global humanitarian response.

In Tacloban, the worst-hit city, residents painted gravestones, laid flowers and lit candles at a cemetery yesterday in memory of the dead, shedding tears as they recounted how they themselves had survived.

“I felt like it was the end of the world. It was like I was in a washing machine, a whirlpool. I was so afraid,” Amelita Gerado, 49, said.

“There is still pain, a scar, but we are recovering,” added Gerado, whose brother-in-law was among those killed in Tacloban.

The city government has declared Nov 8 a “day of remembrance and gratitude” to mark the devastation wreaked by the 2013 typhoon, which highlighted how little-prepared the South-East Asian nation was for disasters of that magnitude.

About 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people and leaving millions in near-perpetual poverty.

But Haiyan remains the most powerful, with gusts exceeding 305kph at first landfall.

Storm surges higher than trees crashed into densely populated areas, leaving corpses strewn across streets and washing ships to shore.

Survivors and aid groups say rehabilitation has been slow, especially for the million families who lost their homes.

Of the target 205,128 permanent houses for those living in so-called danger zones, only 100,709 have been built, President Rodrigo Dut­erte’s government said.

“We are addressing issues that cause the delay, including limited availability of titled lands for resettlement, slow processing and issuance of permits,” Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said on Wednesday.

For many whose relatives remain missing, the absence of their remains is also a lingering challenge.

In the Tacloban cemetery yesterday, survivors wrote names on white crosses stuck on top of a mass grave as a way to find closure.

“We just put gravestones here even if we are not sure that their bodies are here, just so we have somewhere to light candles.

“I want to honour their memory,” said Michael Ybanez, who lost his mother, sister, a nephew and a niece in the tragedy. — AFP