Weeks after typhoon, bodies still being found
TACLOBAN, Philippines — A solemn procession walked down the main coastal road here Saturday morning through a light but steady rain, carrying a piece of plywood with a black object securely fastened on top with yellow packaging tape: a body bag holding the remains of Athena Mae Pelingon, 3.
The procession stopped at a chapel, where the girl’s body was blessed by a priest, then moved on to an already crowded public cemetery. Athena was lowered into a narrow grave at the edge, next to a concrete block wall. Her mother tossed an inexpensive local chocolate bar, a flower and a sachet of powdered milk into the grave as memories of a daughter gone almost before she knew her, and the funeral was over.
Two weeks after Typhoon Haiyan flattened much of this city with a tsunami-like storm surge and winds approaching tornado strength, bodies like Athena’s are showing up regularly as work crews begin to dismantle and remove the head-high piles of debris that line every large road, clog alleys and fill shattered houses and empty lots.
Just in the course of an hour of work by a team clearing an alley down the block from the chapel Saturday morning, three more bodies were uncovered.
Mayor Alfred S. Romual-dez, of Tacloban, said in an interview at City Hall on Saturday that according to the latest estimate he had seen, it would take three months to clear the city of debris that Typhoon Haiyan produced in just a few hours.
More trucks and heavy equipment are still needed, partly because the nearest landfill available is a round trip of 16 miles along crowded roads.
Work crews give priority to dismantling debris piles emitting the distinctive odor of rotting bodies.
International organizations and nonprofit groups are trying to create jobs for destitute residents here by paying them to help with the cleanup. The U.N. Development Program is creating 40,000 15-day jobs for people to restore neighborhoods to their previous appearance, said Stanislav Saling, a spokesman for the group.
Along with the death is new life. The Philippines has one of Asia’s highest birthrates, and the typhoon prompted an extra spate of deliveries, some of them premature, according to foreign doctors performing relief work here.
William A. Ryan, a spokesman for the U.N. Population Fund, said 900 women were giving birth each day in the extensive disaster zone stretching across the central Philippines, of whom 130 a day were at risk of complications.
Cesarean sections are not yet available, he said, adding, “That’s a sizable need, we’re not there yet.”