TACLOBAN, Philippines >> There is no functioning morgue here, so people have been collecting the dead from Typhoon Haiyan and storing them where they can — in this case, St. Michael The Archangel Chapel.
Ten bodies have been placed on wooden pews and across a pale white floor slick with blood, debris and water. One appears to have foamed at the mouth. One has been wrapped in a white sheet, tied to a thick green bamboo pole so that people could carry it, and placed on the floor.
One body is small, and entirely covered in a red blanket.
“This is my son,” says Nestor Librando, a red-eyed, 31-year-old carpenter. “He drowned.”
Librando had taken refuge in a military compound nearby by the time the typhoon’s storm surge poured in Friday morning. For two hours, the water rose around him. He held his 2-year-old son in one arm, his 3-year-old son in the other.
But the torrent proved too strong, and swept the family out of the building. The water rose above Librando’s head and he struggled to swim. His younger son slipped from his hands and was immediately pulled under the water.
“I found his body later, behind the house” in the courtyard, sunken in the mud, he says.
“This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life, the worst thing I could imagine,” Librando says. “I brought him to this chapel because there was nowhere else to take him. I wanted Jesus Christ to bless him.”
The chapel is close to the Tacloban airport, in an area where the storm felled and shredded a vast bank of trees. The water moved with such force that light poles beside a dirt road are bent to the ground at right angles.
At a lakeshore west of the airport terminal, three bodies lay among the rocks. A man, wearing blue shorts and lying face down. A child with yellowed arms grasping skyward. A tiny baby, sprawled on its back.
More bodies lay along a muddy beach nearby. A dead man in jeans leans forward, his head in the water, his back feet somehow perched frozen above the sand and mud behind. Beside him, a child in a diaper lays partially covered by a palm frond, beside wood, debris and a green crate labeled San Miguel Brewery.
There are survivors here, too, including 22-year-old Junick de la Rea. He says the water swept him and five of his relatives off a rooftop where they had fled, but they all survived by grabbing a bunch of plastic and metal containers that happened to float by.
“Please, can you help me?” de la Rea asks a reporter. “I want you to send a message to a friend of mine,” a friend who works for the German Red Cross Union.
His message: “We survived. I want to say we survived. … We lost everything. But we are still alive — and we need help.”