MARK LITKE: Philippine TV was on the air live as the storm hit. It was the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall. And the worst was still to come. A storm surge, a wall of water 20 feet high smashing or washing away much of what was in its path.
The city of Tacloban, population 200,000, took a direct hit. This video was shot by the city’s mayor, trapped in his own house as the storm raged.
When the water receded, utter devastation.The dead tangled in the wreckage, the living forced to fend for themselves for days.
Many women would give birth in deplorable conditions. On the floor of what was the Tacloban airport, Emily Ortega, gave birth to her first child, Bea Joy. And this is Bea Joy today. The smile on her mother’s face says it all.
EMILY ORTEGA: I am so happy that she has grown. I’m happy that we survived and we’re all here together.
But the smiles fade when the talk turns to the trauma inflicted by the typhoon.
MARK LITKE: Do you still want to live here in Tacloban?
EMILY ORTEGA: We want to live far away from the sea. When it’s raining at the waves get higher, I’m afraid all over again.
In the language of international relief efforts: “The humanitarian situation has stabilized across the affected regions.” But eight months later, this is what “stabilized” looks like.
Tens of thousands of families still living in refugee tents or makeshift shacks. The Philippine government has reportedly built fewer than 200 of the 200,000 permanent homes it promised. And now growing concerns about unsanitary conditions, the threat of communicable diseases, and who will pay for the massive rebuilding that lies ahead. The international community pledged about $800 million in post-disaster aid, but just $463 million has been delivered. And help from the central Philippine government has also been slow to arrive.
ALFRED ROMAULDEZ: Categorically, I am not pleased with the response.
Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez says the pace of recovery has picked up recently. In central Tacloban today businesses are reopening, streets are filled with traffic again, but many are still furious with the Philippine government’s response.
ALFRED ROMUALDEZ: Why do we still have families still living in tents, and children now catching pneumonia because of the heat and all that? And it’s really heartbreaking.
The man chosen as the typhoon recovery czar, Panfilo Lacson insists the recovery is now on track, and he tries to emphasize the positive.
PANFILO LACSON: The fact that we don’t have an epidemic, we don’t have famine, and there’s no breakdown of law and order. I think government has responded well enough.
Lacson admits the recovery has not gone as quickly as he hoped partly, he says, because relief efforts have to be closely monitored to eliminate corruption.
PANFILO LACSON: They cannot get away with it because I’ll be there watching because that’s part of my mandate.
But as of now the government still has not released its promised master plan for reconstruction. So many Filipinos have had to rely on their own initiative to do what the government has not done so far — something Filipinos are very used to.
MARK LITKE: There are a couple of commonly used expressions that you’ll hear in the Philippines, especially in difficult times. “Bahala-na:” There’s nothing to be done about it. We’ll just have faith that things will get better. Then there’s “Diskarte na lang:” If it’s broken, well we’ll just figure out some way to patch it together and get it working again.
It helps explain the efforts of Dante and Delor Linggo. They set up an outdoor soup kitchen for the hundreds of local children who lost homes, siblings, parents. All the more remarkable given that Dante and Delor lost 32 relatives in the storm and 3 of their 4 children. Their two youngest boys were crushed under a crossbeam when their house collapsed.
DELOR LINGGO: And when we find them, they are holding their hands together.
They couldn’t find their daughter’s body for another two days. So this is how they deal with their grief by helping others.
DELOR LINGGO: We do this because it is for the memory of our children.
Ordinary Filipinos finding their own way to deal with the crisis.
People who could began building their own shelters almost immediately, and it continues today. And many have ignored a government decree to not rebuild close to the water again.
Nowhere is that more obvious than in the district of Anibong — completely wiped out by the typhoon but patched back together within two months. Today, it’s a crowded warren of makeshift shacks, much worse than living conditions here before the storm, and now sharing space with three enormous freighters still stranded on shore. For the people of Anibong, the freighters are hulking symbols of the slow and uneven recovery that they blame in large part on the government.
MARK LITKE: Did the government promise they would give you a new home, a new house?
RESIDNETS: Promises, promises.
MARK LITKE: Promise, but no sign of it yet?
In fact throughout the entire typhoon zone, the UN estimates there are more than one million people are still living in inadequate housing, still vulnerable to the next big storm. And while people here well aware of the danger, they say they’re more immediate concern is jobs, which are in short supply for individuals and entire industries.
Like so many here, Emily Ortega and her husband haven’t found work. They’re still dependent on humanitarian aid.
And two of this region’s biggest industries were decimated by the typhoon. More than 30 million coconut trees were wiped out, affecting the livelihood of one million families who farm coconuts. It will take more than seven years for any new trees to bear fruit.
And fishermen aren’t faring much better. Lusanto Castillo has fished these waters all his life. Today, he barely catches enough to feed his family.
MARK LITKE: This is all you caught today?
LUSANTO CASTILLO: Only this.
MARK LITKE: Only this.
Lusanto says the force of the storm, the debris, the pollutants left in the water, have seriously damaged the fishing grounds. While the government and humanitarian aid groups moved quickly to replace thousands of destroyed boats, fishermen say they now need bigger boats to go farther out to sea.
LUSANTO CASTILLO: Before the typhoon, there was a variety of fish here — some as big as five kilos. Now we can only catch this. I guess the fish went to another place.
RICHARD GORDON: Coconut is in bad shape. Fishing is in bad shape.
Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon has been one of the most vocal critics of the government, saying it still hasn’t done enough to rebuild or revitalize the economy in the disaster zone from the ground up.
RICHARD GORDON: So you really have to come in and let the typhoon that caused so much damage solve the problem in terms of reconstruction skills and enterprises so you can really wake up the economy.
Gordon also says the Philippine government is not yet prepared for the next big storm. So the Red Cross is now stocking supplies in new warehouses around the region and sponsoring community education drills on how to respond to typhoon warnings.
And with the Philippine school year just beginning, this is the state of many schools in the region. More than 18,000 classrooms need to be rebuilt or repaired, so most classes are being held in temporary huts or tents.
Some of these children walk for miles to take part in school activities organized by the aid group, Save the Children. Here, 11-year-old Sheila Mae can enjoy the company of other children and draw pictures of what nearly everyone here lost: Their homes.
KATE NOLAN: It’s really important that children have a safe place where they can play and learn and recover from the impact of the typhoon.
Save the Children’s Kate Nolan says the Philippines still needs a great deal of help from the international community. But, as often happens months after a major disaster, money is starting to dry up, as donor fatigue sets in. Save the Children has only raised two thirds of the donations it says it needs for its operations here.
KATE NOLAN: People have been really generous, but unless we can continue to mobilize that longer-term support to help people to recover, Typhoon Haiyan could leave a devastating legacy for thousands of children and their families.
For Emily Ortega, the young mother whose child was born the rubble of a town destroyed, in the wake of the strongest typhoon ever recorded, every day with her child, her family, is a gift she never expected. But like so many other survivors, she fears her family will never again feel completely safe and secure.