15 Nov 13 21 Nov 13

Philippines Typhoon: Solidarity amongst the ruins

Yann Libessart was met with some appalling scenes when he landed in Tacloban City on Thursday (14th November). But, despite the devastation, he was amazed by the calmness shown by some of those hardest hit by the typhoon. As part of MSF’s emergency team, Yann goes on the lookout for a place to set up a fully-equipped inflatable hospital to begin treating the people who need it most.

“At last, commercial flights have resumed between Cebu, the second largest city in the Philippines, and Tacloban. Even before landing, the vision of the coast is horrific. Every single building has been destroyed.

Thousands of people have gathered at the airport, looking for help and hoping to be evacuated. But there is absolutely no panic.

Arriving in Tacloban
Yann Libessart

People are lining up calmly, despite already having to wait for a couple days. Even when the soldiers throw chocolate bars to the hungry crowd, fights don’t break out.

The Filipino soldiers are incredibly helpful and polite, too. I don’t remember having ever encountered soldiers this nice.

Solidarity is everywhere. People are sharing the little they still have. The kids play everywhere, with anything. I am always astonished to see how kids manage to stay kids in such apocalyptic situations.

The flow of evacuated survivors crosses the flow of local and foreign militaries, international NGOs and reporters arriving from all over the globe.

Nobody knows where they’re going to sleep. We manage to find some space inside a local hotel to spend the night.

Chaos is everywhere. Reaching the city centre is the first challenge. Functioning and fuelled-up vehicles are really hard to find. Many are using local rickshaws to get around.

Setting up an inflatable hospital

The city of Tacloban is filled with detritus and body bags. The smell is intolerable.

I share some of my Tiger Balm with those who have nothing to mask  the terrible smell.

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is looking for a location to set up an inflatable hospital that should arrive over the weekend by boat.

We visit Bethany hospital, which is totally abandoned and badly damaged.

We hope this place could be an option for the inflatable hospital but the amount of debris is such that it would probably take weeks to clean up. We keep looking.

Information remains incredibly difficult to obtain but the mobile network is getting better by the day. Governmental agencies are very active and efficient, so are the army forces.

Beginning to treat patients

A massive supply needs to be set up from Cebu. Our drugs and some material will arrive today by helicopter. Our two doctors should be able to start treating patients.

Unfortunately, it’s too late for big trauma emergencies caused by the typhoon. Those who only had days to live are either dead or have been evacuated by plane.

Our concern now is more about infected wounds and obstetrical/gynaecological emergencies. Due to the scarcity of drinkable water, other water-borne diseases could soon appear.

People are basically in need of everything. This is Tacloban City. I can only imagine the situation is worse in more isolated areas.”

MSF in the Philippines

MSF teams are currently present in several typhoon affected areas, including  Samar, Leyte, Panay and Cebu islands.

Find out more about MSF's work in the Philippines

Donate to MSF

Thanks to your incredible generosity and our emergency funds, we have decided to close our fundraising appeal for the Philippines for the time being - our staff are on the ground and saving lives.  

To help us prepare for the next emergency, please make an unearmarked donation using the button above.


For updates from Yann while he is in the Philippines, follow him on Twitter.