Guiuan, E. Samar a 'terrifying' wasteland in wake of 'Yolanda'

by Ted Aljibe, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 12 2013 11:11 AM | Updated as of Nov 12 2013 07:11 PM

GUIUAN, Eastern Samar - The Philippine fishing town where one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded made landfall has been turned into a terrifying wasteland where armed men threaten to kill fellow survivors for food.

Guiuan, known for its beautiful beaches and rich colonial history, was where Super Typhoon Haiyan roared in from the Pacific Ocean with winds of 315 kilometers (195 miles) an hour on Friday.

The Philippines was battered by what some meteorologists estimate were the strongest winds on record and the fate of Guiuan remained unknown until Monday when soldiers and journalists arrived for a brief visit by helicopter.

"It is terrifying here," a frightened resident told an AFP journalist as he stood amid the carnage of the town on the central island of Samar that a week ago was a bustling community of 47,000 people.

"There are armed thieves going about. If they know that you have food stored away, they will force their way into your house and rob you at gunpoint."

Other residents warned of pistol-wielding men seeking not money but rice -- a valuable commodity as the town's food supplies dwindle.

At a warehouse -- one of the few structures still standing -- a crowd eagerly looted its contents, not just for food but for anything they could get their hands on: clothes, toys, trinkets, household goods.

"We're helpless here. We are so few and they are so many," a policeman said.

He was one of just a few of the town's 35 policemen who had shown up for work after the typhoon.

Like in other devastated towns on Samar and neighboring islands, where more than 10,000 people were feared dead in what would be the Philippines' worst recorded natural disaster, police were victims too.

They were either dead, too traumatized to turn up for work or too preoccupied with trying to ensure their loved ones survived the gruesome typhoon aftermath.

The typhoon knocked out Guiuan's water and telecommunications services and toppled trees and electrical posts, blocking routes to the town and any hopes of desperately needed food and medicines being delivered.

Large buildings and even a sports stadium were flattened, while from the air the remnants of dozens of flimsy homes built along the coast looked like piles of splintered wood.

The roof of Guiuan's church, which dates back to the 1700s, had been blown off, eliminating another slice of history for a town famed for being where Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in 1521.

The main cause of the devastation in Guiuan were the strong winds, a ragged man told AFP, and not tsunami-like waves that destroyed many other towns.

He estimated that the death toll there was relatively small. "Less than a hundred," he said.

But like elsewhere it seemed certain that it would be a long time before the true number of dead in Guiuan is determined, if ever.

"There were a few dead bodies there. And some more over there," another man said casually as he pointed at different pieces of debris.

"There may have been around 50 dead but we buried them already."

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