by Nick Harrop
“It was like a war-film.” “It was like Miss Saigon.” “It was like a nuclear bomb had exploded.” “It was like the end of the world.”
I was last in Tanuaun in the Philippines in November 2013, just three weeks after the town was hit by Typhoon Haiyan. People I met kept trying to describe the disaster. They talked about the wind – so loud that they couldn’t hear themselves shouting. They talked about the storm surge – a 19-foot wall of water that swept inland, carrying trees and upturned cars into the wreckage of people’s homes.
Most of all, they talked about the destruction immediately after the typhoon: the dead bodies on the streets, the buildings damaged beyond recognition, the horror of realising that everything they owned had been swept away.
By the time I arrived, aid agencies like CAFOD were doing everything they could to help people cope, providing emergency shelter, food, clean water and essential household supplies. But the scenes around Tanuaun were still shocking.
I remember visiting the area in front of Assumption Academy. The school itself had been badly damaged. Its grounds were overflowing with tents, each occupied by a family whose home had been destroyed. Just a hundred metres away, through a gate, was a mass grave holding 1,000 dead bodies.
Coming back to the school, ten months on, is an emotional experience. The transformation is remarkable. The tents have gone, and children are playing on the land, which is, I now realise, a basketball court.
I learn that the last of the families left in early July, moving into wooden shelters provided by the local Church. In the longer term, the Filipino government plans to resettle them in permanent homes further from the sea: it’s too risky for them to live where they used to, in the 40-metre “danger zone” by the coast.