ST On The Ground

Herculean task getting to typhoon-ravaged Tacloban

It would normally have been a short, relaxing flight. Four hours from Singapore to Cebu, and then an hour from Cebu to Tacloban. Except that this time, we were heading towards a totally different Tacloban.

Tacloban now is a wasteland, the entire city levelled by Super Typhoon Haiyan. No electricity, no water supply, no food, and the streets are littered with debris – and corpses.We managed to get to Cebu without much trouble. Getting to Tacloban, however, proved to be a Herculean task.

We spent the whole day scouring Cebu for a way to get there.

We first tried securing a commercial flight, but they were all fully booked. The next available flight, on Philippine Airlines, was on Sunday.

We then went to Mactan Air Base, hoping to beg for a couple of seats on one of the Philippine Air Force’s C-130 transport planes. When we got there at mid-afternoon, however, we found that hundreds of others were thinking of the same thing. Rescue workers, volunteers, people hoping to get their families out of Tacloban and journalists were already there, waiting since 4am to board a plane.

One officer told me to put my name and that of my colleague, Straits Times photojournalist Kevin Lim, on a list and come back the next day, but he still would not guarantee we would get our share of what apparently had become a very precious piece of real estate inside a C-130.

We left as the sun set, with our options whittled down to taking a ferry from Cebu to Ormoc, a city also in Leyte and two hours away from Tacloban. From there, we would have to arrange to get to Tacloban by land.

But this was the least attractive option. It would entail a land journey fraught with dangers. We’ve heard of two convoys carrying relief goods ambushed while making their way from Ormoc to Tacloban.

Just when we were about to give up, Lady Luck smiled on us. 

We overheard someone saying that Cebu Pacific had opened a flight from Cebu to Tacloban, and that we could book online. On hearing that, my colleague Kevin rushed to the nearest computer with Internet access, whipped out his credit card and booked us a flight.

We leave on Thursday morning.