Typhoon Haiyan

Residents in Guiuan, near Tacloban, tell of Super Typhoon Haiyan's onslaught

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 3:50am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 12:56pm

The power cut out at 10pm, but Flora Paraskovich had enough charge left in her laptop to watch the gathering storm as it inched across the screen, closer and closer to her home.

The 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines are regularly buffeted by high winds and rains.

This time, though, the meteorologists' warnings had alarmed the 35-year-old enough to make her rush home to Guiuan from her job nearly 160 kilometres away in Tacloban.

Her family looked at her as though she was stupid when she arrived on Thursday evening and started packing their belongings, trying to explain what winds gusting to 240km/h meant.

Everything was blown away. The house fell over … water came in. It was terrifying

It was not, she told them, just another typhoon. On Friday night, as they headed for bed, she monitored the progress of the swirling mass.

Moments later, her connection was cut. The town of 45,000 people was now on its own. And the super typhoon that made landfall at its southern tip left little trace of the community.

"We are 100 per cent wiped out by Yolanda," said the mayor, Sheen Gonzales, using the Philippines name for Typhoon Haiyan. "It was like the end of the world."

Like other areas across Eastern Samar province, Guiuan's devastation has been largely overlooked. Although it was the first to suffer, its remoteness and the storm damage left it without any aid or contact for days after the typhoon struck.

Officials say the aid arriving remains entirely inadequate.

"It was like a nuclear bomb struck us," said Henry Afable, mayor of nearby Maydolong.

It was 4.40am when the full force of the storm smashed into the town. Paraskovich's mother and siblings and their children had been joined by neighbours who thought their house could withstand the gales.

"We went from room to room," said Paraskovich. When the roof started falling off, her brother had to carry their 80-year-old mother from the living room to his room.

"But that faced the water, so the windows started to move. She ended up in the kitchen, under a table, sitting with a big basin covering her head while we sheltered under the sink.

"Everything was blown away. The house fell over and water came in. It was terrifying."

On Wednesday, Mark Biong, the youthful mayor of another town, Giporlos, was waiting at the airstrip at Guiuan in the hope of getting supplies. So far he had been given just 480 family packs for 6,000 affected households.

He said: "I can't deliver that ... It will just create chaos if I bring that little food for my town. People will get angry about it."

Compared to Guiuan and Tacloban, capital of Leyte province, Giporlos had been calm, he said, but he did not know how long that would last. "It's very little aid - and it's already five days. Imagine how hard it is for me and my people," he said.

The arrival of the first air force planes had calmed people, Paraskovich said. She was able to get a lift to nearby Cebu to buy medicine for her mother and hoped to return to Guiuan soon.

"The first few days we felt we were alone and no one cared about us," she added. "On the first two days people could get food. On the third day people were starting to worry. For now, people still have something to eat, but how long it will last is the question."