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The covered city

Yolanda, the most powerful typhoon in history has left devastating destruction and thousands of victims in its wake

For donations to the victims of the super typhoon in the Philippines:

Rotary Club of KankabatoMetrobank,
Marasbaras fronting Robinson Mall
Tacloban City, 6500, Philippines
Bank account: 5257525505967
Payment grounds:

As part of an entirely different project of Magazine 8, which we will soon tell you about in greater detail, the Editor-in-Chief, Ganeta Sagova, and one of our favorite photographers – Dobrin Kashavelov, have found themselves in the town of Tacloban, epicenter of the super typhoon Hayan, which has occurred just a few days before. All of this has coincided with another scheduled top-level meeting, which was supposed to be about finding solution to combat effects of climate change.  

The first thing Tacloban (Leyte province) greets people with, and never leaves them until they leave, is the heavy stench of rotting flesh. A total of 2100 bodies have been counted, buried in mass graves dug in front of churches in the town. At least another 1500 people have been buried under the ruins of their houses or offices, after the black Friday, November 8, 2013, the most powerful typhoon in the world up to this date – Yolanda (this is the name locals used for Hayan) has pummeled Philippines.

A total of 12 000 people have died in the Leyte and Samar provinces – having been mercilessly swept by the water elements, the local press reports. The total number of people affected by Yolanda has reached 10 million people, and 3 million of them have been standing directly in its way. A total of 7000 villages and 500 cities have been destroyed. 300 000 houses have been leveled to the ground.  


21 days after the tragedy, however, the sun is shining brightly, and white clouds slowly cross the blue sky. Nothing we could observe from the airplane hints as to what awaits us in Tacloban – the Covered City, as the name translates from Tagalog. By the way, it was the same type of day – calm and sunny, was the day before Earth poured down its anger over the island state.    "We have been warned that there would be storm – strong winds and rain, we are accustomed to this. But no one has told us there would be a typhoon. That we would be swept by a 5 meters wave", tells an excited Henry Weechee, chair of the local Rotary Organization, and our guide to Tacloban.   


On November 8th, however, the Pacific Ocean was not quiet. "A powerful "Boom!" was heard on four occasions – a sound coming directly from the depths of Hell. The fifth time it hit horrifically… the wall of water, which has been formed, had a height of up to 10 feet, and the wind speed was more than 300 km per hour. 3.5 times more powerful than Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (the same type of force of nature is named "typhoon" in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean", and "Hurricane" in the Atlantic Ocean and the Northeastern Pacific Ocean – remark of the editor)

The Pacific Ocean did give out a warning of an impending strike. Fishermen and locals have noticed during the evening before the event that the Ocean water has moved away from the shore to a significant distance. Alas, no one paid attention to this sign, or managed to correctly interpret it...  

Caroline Weechee, Jimmy's wife, opens a SUV, nylon replacing glass cover over its window opening, and hands out masks to us. "Here, put these on, the stench is unbearable". Later we understand that all of her husband's cars have been flooded by the super typhoon. He borrowed another person's car to meet us at the site that used to be an airport. Only outer walls and parts of the roof remain there currently...   

Our operator and photographer, Dobrin Kashavelov, goes with his camera among the debris. No one tries to stop him, because security has long ceased acting all-important. Journalists are welcome. Because someone has to shout out the truth about what does and what does not happen in Tacloban. 


At the "airport" we understand why it was so hard to find tickets. Everything was booked for the next 20 days, and it was a small miracle that we have been able to get 3 seats…  

Days after the tragedy, American military lands on the island, bringing aid, installing radar facility and clearing the track of debris. Aircrafts with humanitarian aid start flying in to Tacloban. More than half of the population leaves the island, but the ones, whose homes have been partially preserved, return (mostly so that they don't get robbed). Volunteers also fly to the Covered City, as well as relatives of the victims. Until the day Americans have moved out… and took their radar equipment with them. Since then, flights have been restricted – only visibility control flights are completed – during the days, and will smaller aircrafts.  

Our SUV leaves, as if making an impression on us in slow motion of the picture of complete devastation, imprinting it forever in my mind. "At least there are no longer bodies on the streets now. They managed to get the last ones the days before yesterday", Caroline is trying to cheer me up, as if she has read my mind.  

There is no army, no building workers. Here and there, someone is taking a walk to nowhere in particular and for no evident purpose – among a heap of ruins and stench. It is an image as if taken from a horror movie – a possible scenario for the future, should we continue living in our old ways – without morals, soullessly, not taking care of our planet.   For all scientists, the reason for this disaster is just one – climate change, result of human activity. In 40 years, oceans level has increased by 10 cm. and temperature has risen by 1 degree, and СО2 has increased by 40%. Projections for the next 100 years have just one indication – Tacloban is just the beginning of dramatic natural disasters...   


"It was here that we found out what Hell on Earth meant", says Henry. "We have been left here, forgotten by all, for three days. No water, no food, no power, no telephones, no GSM signal… We were entirely isolated, as if in a prison. After the typhoon I walked out on the street… ruin, decomposing bodies… and zombies, who walk slowly and wail. Drunkards, you could expect anything out of. People went insane – hungry, they busted shops open. Then everything else – the mall, the banks, the ATMs, the "Coca-Cola" factory, the brewery. They got drunk and raged. We were afraid to show up outside, lest we got killed. We were afraid to stay at home, lest we got robbed. We were also out of water…" And therefore Caroline and Henry, just with a single backpack each, reached the airport and took the first possible flight to Manila.  

The government sent air forces to Tacloban on the fifth day after the disaster, to regain control over the wild population. There have been no rescue operations for people, however… According to the persistent rumors around town, the reason for this is the family feud between the family of the current president Benigno Aquino and the mayor of Tacloban, Alfred Romualdez, nephew of the former president Ferdinand Marcos, and more specifically of his wife – Imelda. After the typhoon has destroyed the city, the President has repeatedly asked for Aquino's resignation, shifting the blame on him of the tragedy, which continues in the city.  

"Media writes that the global relief funds are 2 billion dollars. But where is the money? There are definitely not here, in the city", our guide Henry wonders.


In the mean time, we have reached the "home" of Jimmy Carlos, friend of Henry, who is also a member of the Rotary organization. He used to have a small printing company, offering copying services and printing business cards, situated in a ground floor.   

On November 8, he and his wife woke up at 7 to go to work. But the storm was already raging. An hour later the wind became so severe that it tore the roof down. "Had we stayed in our beds, we would have been dead now", Jimmy says, and points to the destroyed roof – just above the family bed (Please see the photo on the left – editor's note). To save his family, Jimmy Carlos, his wife, both his sons (aged 22 and 15), and two of their employees get in the car. After an hour, however, they found out that it was… floating.   

"Outside, quickly. Get on the roof!" – Jimmy ordered. He grabbed two of the dogs, gets them on the roof, and climbs onto it himself. They spend about 2.5 hours, clinging to one another. Water level continues to rise. It fills up the room and reaches to the attic. 
  "There was a hole up on the roof, had it risen up a little bit more, we would have climbed onto the roof", Jimmy explains with a smile.  

His family survives. Then they move to the next door hotel.
  "The hotel owner left for Leyte and said I could stay. There is lots of food here, so we decided to stay", Jimmy says.


Fate was not as benevolent to poor Filipinos, who lived in wooden sheds by the Ocean shore, where the water element has devastated everything.

We make a stop among the district Anibo, where people still live – in something resembling houses, collected by debris, plywood, and boards. Some have been hammered together directly over the remains of the previous homes, literally on top of the buried bodies of their relatives and neighbors. 

Dobrin bravely strides toward a large ship, pushed ashore by the powerful wind - at least 100 m. into the shore. His foot sinks among the debris. Meters away from him, a boy is singing.   An old man gives us a wan smile. He tells us the story of how he was with his neighbors during the day of the tragedy, but once it started raining hard, he crossed the street, and he went to some other friends. After the hurricane passed, he saw nothing remained from the house of his neighbors, nor his neighbors themselves. His sister and brother also disappeared.  

'There are many poor people in the Philippines. They give birth to 10-15 children, and then they send them to the street to beg, and to find sustenance. The government is trying to restrict birth rate, but the church is strong and does not allow it", Henry explains. Only during the mandate of the President Marcos, birth rate has been reduced – up to 4 children per family.

The population of the Philippines is 90 million people, who inhabit an area of 300 000 square kilometers – hardly 3 times the size of Bulgaria.


In between, we also manage to schedule an appointment with the Mayor. Regardless of it being Sunday, Alfred Romualdez will not rest, at least not after November 8. He is a big, strong man, which is not typical for the usually Filipinos. He is dressed in sports clothes – with a red T-shirt. He smiles and we quickly move to our questions. He confirms that the military set foot in town on the fifth day after the disaster, that there have not been any rescue operations, that the billions sent to aid the people affected by the disasters, have not reached the city, and that clearing the debris took a very long time, and that there are many risks on human health... Things newspapers and magazines do not publish, and things television channels don't broadcast. 

"There was this one ВВC journalist, who came during the first days after the tragedy, broadcast a report, and the government accused him of lying", says Henry, and his eyes fill with tears.


We are on the road again. This time the hosts would like to show us the island of Samar, from where the typhoon with the tender name Yolanda has originated. To reach Samar, we need to use the longest and the most picturesque bridge of the Philippines – "San Juanico", or the Marcos Bridge, as it is better known among locals. We pass for more than 15 km, and the surrounding landscape almost doesn't change. All houses around the airport have been either completely destroyed, or, if they had more stable structures, perhaps their outer walls would remain standing. "This was the most expensive neighborhood in town, the typhoon did not spare rich people", the hosts explain.

Along the road to the right, remains and warped metal structures from a huge building are visible. We understand that it has been discovered just a month ago. It was supposed to be an evacuation center. Thanks God no one tried to get people to gather inside, because everyone would even to this day be buried under its remains. The reason – cheap construction materials used here – mostly import from China… It does sound familiar.  

The meteorological station has been fully destroyed, will all weather reporters trapped inside – it was another proof that no one expected natural disaster of such devastating proportion. 
  We are passing next to a palm forest – trees have been broken in two, like straw bits, or they have been literally uprooted. To grow again, it will require at least 7 years, and this will mean absence of occupation for hundreds of people, who have earned their living, trading with cocoa, or they have produced the cocoa wine, which this area is famous for.


By the way, the only buildings which have remained unaffected by the super typhoon, whether by God's grace, or due to better quality of construction, are churches and schools. However, November 30 was the last day people have been allowed accommodation inside, because reconstruction works would be starting. Where they would go no one knows. But at least this would take them out of the stupor condition they were in – sleep, eat rice, do nothing productive. 

In order to incentivize them to work, "Tzu Chi" – the most popular foundation by Thailand Buddhists in the city has started the program "Work-for-Cash", by providing 500 pesos or 9 EUR per day to everyone, who does street cleaning jobs. "Tzu Chi" is the most favorite foundation to everyone – except money, it also provides food, water, drugs, construction materials… Their voluntaries come to provide medical treatment, or just provide assistance. Against the background of cluelessness by the government, the Covered City also showcases the compassion and help from all over the world. 

Japan, Turkey, China, Italian, American, Indonesian and German nationals are now standing together there, regardless of their political or religious differences. Like never before, "tourism' in the city is in bloom – the five hotels operating in this city are overbooked. People with pure hearts go there to help. They do it, because they know that only through love and compassion can the world become a better place to live.