Tacloban Stores Slowly Reopen But Debris Cleaning Is Ongoing

On 'Morning Edition': NPR's Anthony Kuhn, in the Philippines, talks with Steve Inskeep

Life is slowly beginning to return to normal in Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated by a massive typhoon earlier this month. The national death toll from the storm is around 4,000 people. Some 4 million have been displaced.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Our colleague Anthony Kuhn has departed Tacloban, the city in the Philippines hardest hit by a typhoon. Anthony covered the early days of a disaster that left around 4,000 people dead and has displaced four million more. And now that he's in Manila, Anthony is going to try to help us get some perspective on what happened. He's on the line.

Hi, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So a couple of weeks have passed here. How does Tacloban compare to when you first arrived?

KUHN: Much more life in the street, it's very visible. You can see people lining up in the streets to get food, water, gas. The first few days were really sort of directionless and lost. The streets were ghostly - there weren't a lot of people there. People seemed panicked, traumatized. I think it's the mood that was more striking than the physical destruction around.

My colleague and photographer David Gilkey was saying that everywhere you looked, it was just rubble. It was visually incoherent. There was just no way to make sense of it. And now there's a lot more human activity that gives it a sense of purpose.

INSKEEP: Anthony, when I listened to your early reports, I also got a sense of a place that at least temporarily was socially incoherent. People seemed afraid of each other as well as afraid of the disaster. Has society begun to function again in a little more normal way?

KUHN: Yes. Because of these initial reports of looting that came out, there was an air of fear and concern about violence that subsided actually pretty quickly within the first few days. A curfew was imposed. The military got in the streets quite quickly and that went away. But that was a defining feature of the early days.

INSKEEP: Is the relief effort working now?

KUHN: Well, maybe not even half the people have received assistance but assistance is getting out to more people, to more places. It's really quite considerable; the international effort underway there just at the airport, with the military and the pallets of materials coming in, it's become a much greater flow of aid. It's much better coordinated. It's a really sizeable international effort underway.

INSKEEP: There's also been a flow of information as more reporters have arrived in Tacloban. Has that affected the situation at all?

KUHN: I think so, Steve. Part of the sense of fear in the early days was a black hole - a lack of information getting out about the extent of the damage, how many people were killed. At the same time, the Philippine government and the first responders were struggling with this media narrative that everybody was angry, that aid was slow in getting there - which it was - but it wasn't the whole picture.

As a journalist, I have to say, you know, it really was very difficult to cover because we went there and there was absolutely nothing. Now, I could have tried to be self-sufficient. I brought my recording equipment and my telecommunications and enough food and water for a few days. But I could not, as one person, have brought in a generator and days worth of fuel. So I had to borrow.

I ended up, for example, sleeping in City Hall on bags of donated rice and feeling like a piece of sushi. I had to work with other people to get the job done. We were in an environment where there was absolutely nothing.

INSKEEP: What do you think you'll remember most from this experience?

KUHN: I guess it's that feeling of having nothing, of people having no clothes, no food, no water and electricity. And how can you do things that are useful to other people if you don't have those things yourself? A city official said to me: We have citizens but they have no city.

And so many images are just seared into my brain, Steve. Flying over fishing villages, looking down at the devastation, seeing bodies being buried in the front yard of a church, kids finding a drum and playing on it amid the chaos of the evacuation at the airport - all images I will remember for a long, long time.

INSKEEP: Anthony, thanks very much for your work.

KUHN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn, who reported from Tacloban in the Philippines, is now in Manila.

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