Videographer Michael Angelo Suarez, traveled with Plan to Salcedo in Eastern Samar. He shares his experiences before, during and after Typhoon Haiyan hit.
We arrived in Tacloban City on Thursday, November 7, and traveled to Salcedo, a community positioned on a small peninsula at the bottom of Eastern Samar Province. The Plan team was preparing and pre-positioning safe drinking water kits and supporting the community leaders to evacuate the community to higher ground.
We get so many typhoons every year here in the Philippines; it can be hard to convince people to evacuate every time. One of the Barangay [Philippines local municipalities] leaders said that people can be hard-headed when being told to evacuate and often leave it right until the moment the water rises. Others felt that the evacuation point wasn’t safe – or chose not to leave because they had elderly relatives or family members who were sick.
We spent the day documenting the preparations and then traveled back to Borongan – a few hours drive from Salcedo. We had planned to depart the next morning, but the storm was coming too quickly so we decided to stay there and ride it out.
Typhoon and tsunami combinedOn Friday, the storm hit – Borongan did not feel its impact as badly as other places, but it was still unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Plan has an office in Borongan that is a little less than a mile from the ocean and I ventured out briefly towards the end of the storm to see what was going on – the water there rose up to 23 feet around the office and surrounding areas. It was as though a typhoon and tsunami had combined forces.
As soon as the storm had ended, the Plan team tried to return to Salcedo to check on communities. We only got a short way before having to turn back as it got dark and trees, power lines and debris blocked the way, an ominous sign. It was a long night wondering about what lay ahead of us the next day.
On Saturday, early in the morning, we set out again to try and reach the communities affected by the storms – the team needed to assess the situation and understand what help they would need. My job was to document it and share their stories with the world.
Washed out to seaWe set off on 2 motorbikes, 2 people on each. It was the hardest ride of my life – we left at 9am and didn’t reach Salcedo until 6pm – at several points we had to lift our bikes over trees and other debris blocking the roads. My colleague and I even fell off our bike at one point as a power line got caught in the wheels. Luckily we were going slowly and injuries were minor.
On the way to Salcedo we passed through several towns – all affected to varying degrees by the power of the typhoon. The worst was Hernani - most houses had been washed out to sea or destroyed. The asphalt had risen up together like mountain ranges combining – the force required to do that is incredible.
The Hernani cemetery had also been damaged and cadavers were strewn across the sand. Old and new bodies combined. Only a few were wrapped in cloth by that point – the sound of wailing cut the air.
DevastationWhen we finally reached Salcedo it was almost unrecognizable from the beachside town we had been in less than 2 days earlier. Relief goods were being prepared, but seemed insignificant compared to the scale of the need. The mayor told me that people were just expecting hard rain but not water from the sea – again, like a tsunami and typhoon all in one.
We stayed in Salcedo that night in the destroyed municipal hall. Rain was pouring through holes in the ceiling but I felt lucky to have any sort of roof at all – and to feel safe. I slept on 3 chairs, others slept on tables or whatever they could find in the swamped hall. Plan’s office was also damaged and uninhabitable. They had a generator but didn’t use it as gasoline was already starting to become scarce, something that’s only worsened as time’s gone on. It’s strange to sleep in a town where many people have died.
On Sunday, we visited more towns and talked to people to understand their situation – but I knew the footage I had needed to be shared with the rest of the world. Planes weren’t available so I decided on Monday to return to Manila by road – it took 24 hours by bus and ferry but I made it. It wasn’t until I finally got phone reception again that I realized the Plan team had been really worried about me – I hadn’t been able to contact them since the storm hit!
I am working on editing the footage that I took and it’s hard to look at – there is so much loss and suffering and people urgently need help. I’m incredibly tired after this week, but I am focused on sharing these stories with the world – we need all the help we can get.