A day with dead bodies, people desperate to live

By: Lito M. Tecson November 12,2013 - 11:08 PM

AFTER covering the devastation caused by the Oct. 15 earthquake in Bohol and previous disasters like the sinking of the Princess of the Stars and the St Thomas Aquinas, I thought I’d seen it all.

Then came supertyphoon Yolanda. A day after it swept through northern Cebu and Central Philippines, I was told by my editors to head to Tacloban City, reportedly the hardest-hit area.

I went to Mactan air base at 4 a.m. on Sunday, to hitch a ride on a C-130 plane that carried relief goods, soldiers, rescue workers, doctors and health personnel. With me were reporters from different media outlets.

The C-130 plane took off from Mactan air base at 10 a.m. and landed in Tacloban at noon.

Ground Zero

Looking out the window as the Hercules plane slowly moved over the tarmac, all I saw were flattened houses, upturned vehicles and a washed out runway. This was Yolanda’s “ground zero”.

At the airport, we were approached by old and young survivors who begged for water and food. All looked tired, hungry and disheveled. Some were barely clothed. I saw a black body bag on the ground and I was told by one of the survivors that it contained the remains of a soldier. It’s going to be a very long day, I told myself.

From the airport I walked a kilometer to barangay San Jose. Everywhere I looked there was nothing, but dead bodies and demolished houses.

I counted five human remains covered with G.I. sheets and rags. The foul odor could be smelled some distance away.

I convinced a habal-habal driver to take me to Tacloban City Hall.

Along the way, we saw a mob ransacking the warehouses of San Miguel and Coca Cola. Men and women ran away with cases of beer and softdrinks.

About 50 to 100 meters past, we passed by Robinson’s Place where I saw more people taking everything they could get their hands on–computers, laptops and even tires, batteries and car accessories.


They loaded their bounty into pickup trucks, Multicabs and tricycles, motorcycles and pushcarts. No policeman was in sight. More dead bodies of children and adults lined both sides of the road.

On reaching roofless Sto. Niño church, I saw people praying inside. A police speedboat was sitting on the middle of the street.

At Maras-Buras plaza located near the sea, there were more fallen pine trees and more dead bodies and the remains of cats pigs and even snakes.

As I downloaded the pictures I took into my laptop computer, I heard gunfire and saw half-naked men being dragged away by police and soldiers armed with rifles.

A policeman told me that they were inmates in the provincial jail who attempted to bolt out.

There were “libreng tawag (free calls)” center set up by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), using broadband satellite.

I asked residents if there was some place I could sleep in for the night and I was led to an inn.

I had to make do with a small room, which had no water or power.

The following day, I went to the University of the Philippines (UP) Tacloban building that has become an evacuation center.

Angry, frustrated

More fallen trees and upturned cars greeted me. I saw people cooking food and taking their meals at the Redemptorist Church.

Later in the day, I went back to the airport and I saw dead bodies lined up on each side of the road. They were not there the previous day.

At the airport lounge, I had to make my way through a crowd of angry, frustrated and anxious passengers waiting for the next available flight out of the ravaged city.

A group of survivors saw me with my media ID card and they kept hussling me for water and food.

They also asked me if I could relay word of their condition to their loved ones and ask them to send them water and food.

They shoved pieces of paper with their contact numbers on it into my hands.

Self control

It took every ounce of self-control for me to keep calm and not break down from seeing so many faces filled with misery and despair.

My Bohol earthquake coverage didn’t affect me as much as what I witnessed in Tacloban.

I could have cried but I chose not to.

On seeing the C-130 plane, I saw stranded passengers looking relieved, seeing it as a sign that everything will be fine.

The plane carried the people I saw at the airport begging for water and food when I came in.

I heaved a sigh of relief as the C-130 plane touched down at the Mactan air base.

Upon disembarking from the plane, the survivors were immediately given water and food by air force personnel and social workers.

It was good to be home again.


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TAGS: bohol, C-130, Cebu, DSWD, earthquake, MV St Thomas Aquinas, photographer, Tacloban City

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