11 Nov 2013

Typhoon Haiyan: lifeline in the sky

Out in the mountains, out in the small islands in the sea of inundated rice-paddy, out on the isolated beaches with ripped-out coconut palms – out here they aren’t concerned with how many have been killed.

They’re concerned with one thing – not joining the growing numbers of confirmed dead.

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The Philippine army road gangs are doing what they can to remove buildings and debris blocking movement across the central island provinces – but it’s only by helicopter that aid can get through.

We head out low in a Philippine Airforce (PAF) transport chopper piled high with sacks of rice.

Five hundred feet below brilliant white egrets patrol low across the still churned, caramel waters of lakes, sea-lagoons and paddy. The chocolate, lumpen water-buffalo equally oblivious to the wooden houses of their owners shredded in village after village.

A man stands, frantically waving a white rag up at us, his pathetic pile of splintered wood, plastic and tin roof an island, surrounded by water. We can only guess the helicopter crew picked up his position and radioed it to the PAF base (actually Roxas City civilian airport now commandeered).


The helicopter makes a low loop around one beach-side village a few miles further on. Then pulls up into the soft grey-black sand. The rotors scarcely slow in the few minutes we’re on the sand.

Villagers are waving, shouting, screaming at us, sprinting along the beach . The crew manhandle rice sacks into waiting, eager hands. It is over in minutes and we are away.

The sky is leaden here today in the 32C tropical heat. The beach, strewn with debris and the palms that once marked the high-tide line, snapped, or stumps stripped of any branches by winds that went past 200 mph into the territory of tornadoes.


Imagine then a tornado scores of miles wide, rampaging across the land at 27 mph over a couple of insane hours around the middle of Friday, and you may begin to appreciate what went on here.

We still do not know if the man with the white rag in the rubble of his life, has been located and rescued. One man in a stricken swathe of country.

We are the only journalists in this area and it was clear from the destruction and desperate response from villagers, that they’ve seen next to nothing by way of aid.

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