Typhoon Haiyan

There was nowhere to hide for victims of Typhoon Haiyan

Philippine authorities did all they could to protect people, experts say, but typhoon Haiyan was so powerful even storm shelters were not safe

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 10:42pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 2:28am

Philippine authorities were sure they had done enough to prevent mass casualties from Super Typhoon Haiyan, but with 10,000 people feared dead experts say parts of the country may be helpless against relentless storms.

The nation endures seemingly never-ending natural disasters, many of them deadly, and President Benigno Aquino has made saving lives a priority by improving preparations for them.

With nearly one million people evacuated from high-risk areas and a highly publicised alert system in place before Haiyan made landfall on Friday, Aquino's aides expressed confidence that this time they were prepared.

But Haiyan turned out to be one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded, and sent waves up to five metres high hundreds of metres inland, wiping out entire communities.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) warned that the damage could even rival the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that left tens of thousands dead and whose effects are still being felt.

Still, experts said the extent of death and destruction was largely beyond the control of local authorities, which also meant the same problems could again lead to widespread carnage.

"This storm is unprecedented. Many things like this are outside of human intervention," International Labour Organisation country director Lawrence Jeff Johnson said. "They did what they could. There were a lot of lives saved."

Tacloban, the provincial capital of the central island of Leyte, is believed to have been among the worst hit, with storm surges sweeping away trees, trucks and houses throughout the city of 220,000 people.

Government weather forecaster Jori Loiz said Tacloban's coastal-facing flat terrain, with only a few small hills for refuge from floods, meant that residents had nowhere to hide.

"With all these people, where could they have gone? If I was the governor, I could not have figured out how to relocate these people," Loiz said.

Officials said many residents had adhered to evacuation instructions, only to die in emergency centres where they were told they would be safe.

Reynaldo Balido, a spokesman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, said schools and churches that had served as shelters in previous storms were destroyed by the tsunami-like waves.

"They followed instructions. The storm was too strong. Will you blame them for going to the wrong evacuation centres?" he said angrily in response to questions about why people in Tacloban were not protected.

This storm is unprecedented. Many things like this are outside of human intervention. They did what they could. There were a lot of lives saved
International Labour Organisation country director Lawrence Jeff Johnson said

Haiyan hit the Philippines as a category five storm with maximum sustained winds of 315 km/h - one of the most powerful ever anywhere in the world.

Energy Secretary and former Leyte governor Jericho Petilla also said the magnitude of the storm was simply overwhelming.

"We never had a storm this strong. You can make preventive measures but you can never prepare enough for something so big," he said.

"If you really don't want anyone to be hurt, [you have to] evacuate the whole province."

IOM country director Marco Boasso also praised the Philippines' disaster measures.

"This is a very responsive and organised government, especially compared to others I cannot name for diplomatic reasons," he said.

But he suggested that Philippine resources had been overstretched by one calamity after another.

They include Typhoon Bopha, which left 1,900 people dead or missing in December last year, then a bloody three-week conflict in a southern city attacked by Muslim guerillas in September, and a deadly magnitude 7 earthquake in October.

"The government was doing as much as it can. But how much can be done when disaster happens again and again?" he said.

Video: More than 10,000 feared dead in typhoon-ravaged Philippines

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