Eyewitness Report: Guiuan a Month After Typhoon Haiyan

I received an email report today from an international visitor who was in Guiuan during the past week doing advance work for a possible relief project.  As most will recall, Guiuan is the town of 40,000 in Eastern Samar where Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) first made landfall. The town is on a peninsula that separates the Leyte Gulf to the, and the Pacific Ocean to the East. When the US Navy was providing relief, Guiuan’s airstrip (originally built in 1944 as part of the American effort to retake the Philippines) was used extensively.

Map of Leyte Gulf

GENERAL IMPRESSIONS

The only things left relatively intact in Guiuan are the airstrip, and the piers built by the US in 1944 and one school building at an elementary school donated and built by the Japanese in 1991 which survived with the roof still on and the walls standing. The task is very daunting. Guiuan’s lucky in that it has a young and energetic mayor in Christopher Gonzales  and a young city attorney; they have lots of energy and they will need it.  (MDS Note: Gonzales is credited with greatly limiting the fatalities in Guiuan by taking a very proactive role in insisting that residents evacuate.  “I forced the people to evacuate because this time was different,” Mr. Gonzales told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s very hard to convince people to evacuate, because they are used to typhoons here.”)

Guiuan Mayor Christopher Gonzales

Guiuan’s 33 year old mayor, Christopher Gonzales, with  volunteer.

BOATS

City hall has lists by barangays of things gone away. The list had 4 different kinds of boats, most about 10 hp for netting or long lining, etc. and a total of probably 400 boats destroyed in Guiuan’s barangays alone.

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Guiuan in the early days after the typhoon, showing boat damage

CLEARING OPERATIONS

Everything’s done by hand using small vehicles and tricycles — so the efforts are energetic, but the progress is slow. I saw a single dump truck in Guiuan and one fork lift at the airport left by the American military. Everywhere there are piles of twisted metal from downed roof frames.

CRANES/PORT SITUATION

There’s not a single crane in Guiuan so 40′ and 20′ containers can’t be unloaded from a ship. If they could containers off a ship and onto a truck (which they don’t have), there’s no way to unload a container at present.

The Destroyed Port of Guiuan

SCHOOLS

A priority that was discussed is getting schools rebuilt and reopened. If the building did get re-constructed by June there are no books and in some ways worse, there are no records for either students or faculty. The DEPED rep was there discussing the challenge — how could student’s graduating be accredited?

LEARNING FROM WORLD WAR II

An older man who had been there in 1944 said the airport had been built by the US in one month starting in Nov. with the first planes landing in Dec. At the time he said Guiuan had been the largest supply base in the Pacific with a 2,000 bed hospital all done in secret by the US military at the time.

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