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Published: 12/8/2013

1 month since Typhoon Haiyan, signs of progress and challenges in Philippine disaster zone

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Typhoon survivors get a haircut along the streets for $1 in Tacloban, central Philippines on Sunday. Typhoon survivors get a haircut along the streets for $1 in Tacloban, central Philippines on Sunday.
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TACLOBAN, Philippines — The government is back at work, and markets are laden with fruits, pork, fish and bread. Shredded trees are sprouting new leaves. Above all, the sounds of a city getting back on its feet fill the air: the roar of trucks hauling debris, the scrape of shovel along pavement, the ping of hammer on nails.

One month since Typhoon Haiyan, signs of progress in this shattered Philippine city are mixed with reminders of the scale of the disaster and the challenges ahead: Bodies are still being uncovered from beneath the debris. Tens of thousands are living amid the ruins of their former lives, underneath shelters made from scavenged materials and handouts.

City administrator Tecson Lim says a sense of “normality” has returned and has begun talking of a silver lining: “The opportunity to transform our city into a global city, a city that is climate change resilient and that can perhaps be a model.”

Rebuilding will take at least three years, and success will depend on good governance and access to funds. The Philippines is currently posting impressive economic growth, but corruption is endemic and the country remains desperately poor, with millions living in slums.

National and regional authorities had ample warnings and time to prepare before the storm hit early on the morning of Nov. 8, but evacuation orders were either ignored or not enforced in a region regularly hit by powerful typhoons. Haiyan plowed through Tacloban and other coastal areas, leaving over 5,700 dead and more than 1,700 missing throughout the region. Some 4 million people were displaced.

But one couple in the town had other things on their minds Saturday.

Earvin Nierva and Rise El Mundo exchanged marriage vows at a church and then posed for photos in a hard-hit area of the city. “This gives hope to people that we can rise up,” said El Mundo.

Pumping his fist, her new husband said, “Rise Tacloban!”

The storm, one of the strongest to hit land on record, triggered an international response, led by the United States and U.N. agencies.

The Philippine government has joined them in paying for food-for-work and cash-for-work emergency employment for thousands who lost their livelihoods. The workers clean up the twisted houses, trees and others debris that still cover large parts of the city and receive about 500 pesos ($11.36) a day.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Australian Foreign Minister Julia Bishop separately flew to Tacloban on Sunday to check on typhoon assistance provided by their governments. Onodera stooped and exchanged high-fives with children who lined up to greet him at a Tacloban school that was turned into a shelter for 365 displaced families.

Bishop chatted with patients at a field hospital set up with Australian help outside Tacloban’s ruined airport and pledged to increase her country’s financial aid.

On Friday, the World Bank approved $500 million in budget support that the Philippine government can use for short-term recovery and reconstruction. It is also providing technical assistance in designing housing, hospitals, schools and public facilities that can withstand super typhoons, strong earthquakes and severe floods.

Lim, the administrator, said a development master plan soon to be completed calls for people living in areas prone to storm surges to be relocated farther inland. He said while some residents might resist moving from their former neighborhoods, many others now were receptive to relocation after surviving the typhoon.

Rebuilding after the typhoon is a colossal work for an impoverished country that is still recovering from a recent earthquake that hit a nearby island and a Muslim rebel attack that razed houses in clashes in September in the south. Haiyan destroyed or damaged more than a million homes.

The storm led to a breakdown in government services and there were scenes of chaos as hungry survivors broke into shops, homes and gasoline stations. Lim said 19 of the 26 government agencies in the city were now operating and about 15 percent of the city has electricity.

“Psychologically, there is a sense of normalcy,” he said.

Thousands are already beginning to rebuild in areas that might well be designated not safe for human habitation.

Priscila Villarmenta was cradling a granddaughter while male relatives were fixing metal sheets and plywood to her destroyed home, which was torn apart by one of four cargo ships that were swept into her neighborhood by a tsunami-like storm surge triggered by the storm.

“We are again starting our livelihood and building our house,” she said.

In Palo town near Tacloban, dozens of names of villagers who perished were read in a memorial Sunday before Archbishop John Du celebrated Mass at a cathedral where the moon was visible through holes in the shattered roof.

Held to remember the dead and provide healing and closure, the ceremony was attended by survivors who recounted their tragic ordeals, including a Roman Catholic priest, who lost his mother and presided over her funeral Mass.

“We have lost so much of what we own,” Du said in the homily. “But here, friends, we have never lost hope.”

As darkness fell, hundreds of villagers piled out of the cathedral with lit candles and walked in a procession to a nearby mass grave of about 100 typhoon victims fenced off by white ribbon and marked by flowers. Du blessed the dead then the grieving survivors began to walk away, leaving clusters of candles at the edge of the grave flickering in the wind.



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