We took the ferry from Cebu City to Ormoc. As we approached the port at Ormac, even from a distance, you could see that something was different. The familiar shroud of tropical green and blue that normally greats anyone arriving at almost any port in the Philippines was gone, replaced by a brownish haze. The port city itself was still standing, but the damage was obvious even from a mile out. Piles of rubble on the shore have obliterated whatever beach was once there.
We met up with our driver and headed out towards Tacloban, which is about a 2 hour drive and took us through higher, winding roads, through smaller barangays. What was once a jungle now looks like an American wheat field. The trees are stripped bare and even the ground has been torn up and darkened. On the other days, a drive like this would be a reminder of everything that is pure about this country. A sense of simplicity. Wood homes made from the material of the land, farmers, and stunning landscapes. But now it looks … broken.
The leaves of the trees have all been "umbrella-ed", opened up, and all at the same angle. There can be no doubt the direction from which the nightmare wind came. The trees are transformed into something almost ghoulish, like a painter would dream up on Halloween. The center of the trees, where the coconuts should hang, look like angry, strained faces. It's completely disconcerting. Salvador Dali meets Dante. A warning of things to come. As we started to discend towards Tacloban, the villages increasingly showed the signed of the power of the storm. Miles and miles of debris that used to be where people lived.
But as we moved into the city proper, it all came into focus. We've watched CNN. But there is nothing to describe the site of a city of 200,000 people completely destroyed. This is not a small village. This is a center of civilization. A city with shopping centers, Nike Stores, fast food, Chevy dealerships. Or it was before the storm. Now it's simply shattered. The devastation is endless. Steel structures, as well made as any auditorium in the States, lay in ruins, the girders twisted. By wind ...
It was lightly raining now. We passed one of the areas where the storm surge hit. Nico, one of the marketing heads for M Lhullier, the company that was heading the relief drive, was born and raised in Tacloban. He was accompanying us on the shoot and assisting with the relief. He looked out the window. "Suss (roughly translated -- "damn"). That's my home right down that street." I looked over. Couldn't see a street or a home. Just a massive pile of cement, steel, wood, garbage and dripping rainwater. Nico shook it off. He pointed. "That was my high school over there." Another pile of rubble. Unsalvagable to my eye.
I was stunned at his courage and acceptance of this apocalyptic scene. I found out later, he had already helped rescue his mother and brother last week. He had seen 31 people dead in his neighborhood. He saw the insane breakdown of society that happens when people are literally dying of thirst. He had made his peace. The scene was already old news to him. The rest of us just stared in stunned silence.
We drove further. On the right side of the road, they were conducting a mass burial. We saw bodies in bags carried to their final resting place - a lawn in front of a destroyed church. A large hole dug in the wet ground. "I think some of those people are my schoolmates. I'd stop and pay my respects but I don't feel like breaking down today. We have work to do." And he smiled. We have work to do. He was moving on.
The relief is pouring in. People are getting food and water. The streets are cleared. Good news. But the reality is that this effort will take years. Just because this story no longer leads on CNN doesn't mean that this bomb didn't just go off. Think how long it takes to rebuild one house. Now imagine a city. Now imagine 50 cities. Thank you again for your support.
Supporters are now helping to
Operation H2MO: Water for the Victims of Yolanda A quick brief: this project started because the Phillipines based team of Modus Operandi, an LA based agency, wants to help ease the suffering of this beautiful country in the wake of the Typhoon. The storm's eye narrowly missed us and now we are in the unique position of being able to marshall forces and make an impact. We have decided to…
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