POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Feb 04, 2014
As Jesse Siozon waited for his grandfather's funeral to begin, beneath the orange and blue tarps that serve as the roof for the storm-damaged Santo Niqo Church, he spoke of a double loss.
His grandfather may well have been the last person in the bedraggled Philippine city of Tacloban to succumb to injuries and illnesses brought on by Typhoon Haiyan. And now Siozon, a 30-year-old nurse, is being forced to leave Tacloban, his family's hometown for four generations, because efforts to rebuild have stalled and jobs have disappeared for skilled workers like him.
"I wish I could have worked here," he said as sunlight streamed through the hole in a stained-glass window donated by his grandfather. "I don't even have a place to live here."
Nearly three months after the some of the strongest sustained winds ever recorded drove ashore a wall of water up to 25 feet high, this once-thriving university town and provincial capital shows relatively few signs of economic recovery despite an international rescue effort. At night it is mainly plunged into darkness, and the few temporary houses completed by the government have been declared too cramped for human habitation.
The city is caught in a spiral of deprivation that will be hard to break, especially given the scope of a catastrophe that killed at least 6,000 people and was the deadliest natural disaster in the world last year.
Without power and other basics, businesses are finding it difficult to recover. And without commerce the city will continue to lose money — and talent.
The continuing confusion has left this city, which once envisioned becoming a new economic hub, struggling to hold onto young and talented residents. Like Siozon, they are leaving for work elsewhere in the Philippines' growing economy.
"The young professionals whom I know have left because of the quality of life here," said Jerry T. Yaokasin, deputy mayor of Tacloban. "When I look around, it is as if it happened yesterday — there is still so much devastation."
The flight of those most able to find opportunities elsewhere is leaving behind a city of the poor, including those left destitute by the typhoon.
Almil Rama is a 35-year-old kindergarten teacher who lost her husband and house in the storm and now lives with her three children in a room rented from a friend.
The storm killed 22 of the kindergartners at her school, San Jose Elementary, and 94 students soon moved away with their families and have not come back. The school still has 137 kindergartners, but it lost its books and its ceiling fan in the storm. Even if the fan is replaced, there is no power to run it.
"We need electricity," said Rama, who lights her rented room with candles.
Some aspects of life in Tacloban have improved since the storm hit Nov. 8. Relief food and drinking water are available — though Rama said the cost of drinking water jugs had increased sixfold, absorbing a tenth of her salary. Residents say crime is low, despite the lifting of a curfew imposed in the desperate first days of lawlessness after the storm.
But other problems appear intractable, including the lack of decent housing. The storm destroyed or severely damaged the homes of more than 4 million people — more than twice as many as in the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which killed more than 200,000 people but did not steal as many homes from the living.
Many people here are living in tents. The temporary homes rejected by United Nations experts — little more than rows of plywood stalls under a high roof, with shared bathrooms nearby — are being renovated. But widening the living stalls will mean fewer families can move in.
And the lack of electricity is a constant worry for those trying to breathe life into the city's mostly moribund economy and forestall a further exodus.
Running gasoline or diesel generators is too expensive for many businesses, in some cases costing six times as much as grid electricity. So they operate at less than full capacity, if at all.
That can have a compounding effect. IP Car Tech, the biggest truck and car repair shop in the region, can operate only one of its 18 vehicle lifts at a time with its diesel generator. That means many of the thousands of typhoon-damaged cars, trucks and even ambulances needed for commerce and daily life remain unusable.
C. Jericho Petilla initially promised a restoration of electric service by Christmas Eve, then pushed the target to the end of March. But with fewer than a quarter of the buildings reconnected to the grid at all, even that goal appears elusive.
Complicating matters is the extensive pillaging that took place in the first two weeks after the storm. Roughly 1,100 convicts escaped from three prisons and joined residents in ransacking large areas, sometimes for necessities, sometimes not.
Up to a third of Tacloban's transformers were torn apart for their copper cores, which could be sold for scrap at $220 apiece on the black market. The transformers cost $1,600 apiece to replace, plus labor. Sections of downed power lines were also snipped and stolen for the copper inside, making it impossible to simply send out trucks to lift the lines back onto poles.
Vendors of crucial supplies like concrete poles have begun demanding cash on delivery from the struggling cooperative.
"I would not be surprised if 12 months from now there are customers still not connected to the grid," said Adam Victor, chief executive of New York-based TransGas Development Systems, which recently completed a detailed assessment.
Keith Bradsher, New York Times