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Tacloban Took Brunt Of Typhoon Haiyen


We have two perspectives now on the destruction a typhoon left behind in the Philippines. The first is the view from the air. It comes from U.S. Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy, who is coordinating an American military effort to help typhoon survivors. Not long ago, General Kennedy stepped on board a helicopter for what he called reconnaissance. He flew over a wide strip of land struck by one of the strongest storms on record.

GENERAL PAUL KENNEDY: As you would expect with 200 mile an hour winds and a 25 foot tidal surge, it looked like a bomb went off. Virtually all of the structures, if they were not made out of concrete or steel, are gone. It looks like a 50-mile-wide tornado hit landfall and (unintelligible). Virtually every tree along the southern coast of Samar, all the palm trees have been ripped out of the ground completely. Like matchsticks. And they are strewn all across the roads.

MONTAGNE: So that's Brigadier General Paul Kennedy with a view of the typhoon damage from above. Next we have the view from the ground in the devastated city of Tacloban.


NPR's Anthony Kuhn has just arrived in that city. He's at the airport. And Anthony, what are you seeing?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: I'm basically standing amidst rubble here. There are cars and bits of airport strewn all over the place. There are also a lot of police, a lot of aid workers, and a lot of survivors of the typhoon trying to get out of here. They're desperate. When I got in and I got off the plane, I saw a crowd surge towards the planes and the soldiers trying half-heartedly to stop them. These were mostly women and children. The soldiers fell back and locked arms together and wouldn't let them through.

People are asking me, do you have food, Mr.? They're just desperate.

INSKEEP: And I hear the wind blowing there. I know the weather is fairly severe, on top of everything else - the past destruction from the typhoon. You mentioned the plane that you came in on, Anthony. Who's flying planes in there and how often are they arriving?

KUHN: I came in on a U.S. Marine Corps transport. The U.S. military and the Philippine military are both flying in a few flights a day, sending in aid workers, supplies, journalists, soldiers. And they're coming out with the most needy, the sick and the injured. And it's a trickle. You know, after four days there's very little medical care here. People are very hungry. People are just as desperate as they were when they came here. They don't feel safe in town because there's been so much looting. There's lawlessness.

INSKEEP: Are you talking about people who are just going through the rubble looking for food, looking for basic supplies? Which would be completely understandable in a disaster like this. Or are they doing something more?

KUHN: Well, I talked to the looters, Steve, and they said all they're doing is trying to stay alive. You know, every mall in this city of 220,000 people was ransacked. I talked to some of the kids who were doing it. They said it's just to survive. It's not a protest. But at the same time, they are angry that they're not being helped and nobody is coming to their assistance.

INSKEEP: You said at the end there that people are angry that they're not being helped, that nobody's coming to their assistance. I'm repeating the words just because the high winds are obviously making it difficult to hear Anthony Kuhn in Tacloban in the Philippines. You mentioned, Anthony, a city of 220,000. Of course there are also people in the countryside. That would be a lot of planeloads of supplies. That would be an incredible airlift to supply that number of people. How many planes are getting in and out at a time there at Tacloban?

KUHN: Well, I'll have talk to the control tower people. I don't know. But I've only seen, you know, no more than, say, three military transport planes at a time on the tarmac, and I can tell you, they're not built for passengers. They've got pallets of goods. They're just not set up to carry a lot of people. I've met people, including American citizens, who have been trying to get out. I saw them coming in trickles back to the airport in Manila. It's a very slow, painstaking process.

INSKEEP: Is the airport at least secure, even if the central city is not secure?

KUHN: Relatively speaking, yes. There are a lot of soldiers here. But you know, we're also told to watch it because it's just very tense at the moment.

INSKEEP: We've seen the images, the video images from Tacloban and the devastation is so extensive, when you're looking at the camera shots, that you see every building seems to be down. Is there any word that there is some part of this city that is less destroyed, that is actually still in relatively passable shape?

And so the damage is quite extensive. We've continued to hear the wind blow as you talk with us on the phone there from the Philippines. What has the weather been like today? I should say tonight. It's been dark there.

KUHN: Well, everyone and everything is soaked here. It rains periodically. There have been winds. There were reports of a 4.8 magnitude earthquake here. I do not feel that in Manila. There are reports of another tropical storm coming and people have very little over their heads at the moment. People are just making due, you know, putting up tarps, finding pieces of board or corrugated roof to put over their heads. And so when it rains, people get very wet.

INSKEEP: Are relief officials, U.S. military officials or others, telling you that they have a plan to deal with this, that they have the resources they need and it's just a matter of applying them?

KUHN: Well, you may have seen that Secretary of Defense Hagel ordered the U.S.S. George Washington, the aircraft carrier, and its entire strike group to deploy here. They should be here in something like 48 to 78 hours. Their shore leave in Hong Kong was interrupted and they're on their way here. There are also reports that ospreys and Hercules transports will be coming from Marine bases in Okinawa. You know, it takes time to deploy. They're already - you know, I saw a lot of Marines working on this, but it's still just a trickle to the people on the ground here.

INSKEEP: Anthony, thanks very much.

KUHN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: We've been talking with NPR's Anthony Kuhn. He is at the airport in Tacloban, the hardest-hit city in the Philippines in the wake of the typhoon. Now, plenty of aid workers are preparing to rush to Tacloban, but the airport where we found Anthony Kuhn is the bottleneck. A team from Doctors Without Borders, for example, is still waiting for a flight in. They've been waiting where they are for days. An Associated Press reporter drove through the city of Tacloban and found no organized delivery of food, water or medical supplies. We're glad you're with us on this local public radio station. You can continue following MORNING EDITION throughout the day with updates on the rescue efforts and other news. We're on Facebook. We're also on Twitter @MorningEdition and @NPRInskeep. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.

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