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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Climate of fear in the developing world

In the days after Super Typhoon Haiyan slashed and burned the Philippines on Nov. 12, blowing whole cities to smithereens, New York Times reporters Andrew Jacobs and Emma Cott and photographer Bryan Denton traveled over treacherous roads to Guiuan, on Samar Island, where the storm’s epicenter made landfall.

The Times team captured an incomprehensible scene in video, photos and text. Where homes and businesses once stood in this city of 47,000, there were only debris mounds in all directions. Wooden boards poked out of the massive piles like campfire kindling. Barren palm tree trunks were the only high points on the horizon, their once-lush fronds blown away by Haiyan’s merciless winds.

In one video produced by the Times team, a young boy flew a white kite amid the rubble, and children played volleyball in an empty lot beside the ruins of a centuries-old church. There was, however, little other activity.

Many, if not most, people evacuated the city. Who knows when they might return? Some stayed behind, fashioning makeshift shelters out of tarps amid the squalor. They are so grateful for any aid they might receive.

“The day after the typhoon, we were so hopeless,” Mary Ann Mercado told the reporting team. “We felt like we were dying. Then the Americans came, and we felt safe because someone is helping, and we’re so thankful.”

Haiyan was the Philippines’ Sandy, only far more devastating. According to the Weather Channel, Haiyan’s 20-foot tidal surge was nearly double the size of Sandy’s, and its sustained 195-mph winds, with gusts up to 235 mph, packed a far greater punch than Sandy’s 75-mph, tropical storm-force winds.

Imagine tornado-like gusts battering your community for hours on end. The Moore, Okla., tornado last May generated 210-mph winds. It lasted 39 minutes, destroying a 17-mile stretch of the city.

Take Sandy’s hours-long time frame and its tidal surge, only higher, and combine them with the Moore tornado’s winds, only more forceful and across a wider swath, and you have Super Typhoon Haiyan.

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