Sorting Through The Rubble, Tacloban Cleans Up After Typhoon

Every day in Tacloban, the place gets a bit cleaner. Dump trucks, bulldozers and excavators are criss-crossing the Philippine city to deal with the mountain of typhoon debris. Virtually every building in this city of 200,000 people was destroyed or damaged. Now, government leaders and aid groups are sorting out how to deal with the massive piles of garbage and where it should be disposed.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Now to the Philippines, which is still recovering from the devastating typhoon that tore across the islands. Almost every building in the town of Tacloban was either destroyed or damaged by the storm, shattered homes, crushed cars, fallen trees. The rubble is everywhere. As NPR's Russell Lewis reports, that debris is now the biggest problem.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: No matter where you go in Tacloban, you can't escape the remnants of people's lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING)

LEWIS: On Paseo de Legaspi Street, Leo Homeraz is inside his tiny home with his wife, two sons and a grandson. They're all cleaning up. During the typhoon, the floodwater got as high as Homeraz's chest. After the storm, the house was trashed and their things were mostly gone.

LEO HOMERAZ: (Through translator) I went around to the neighbor's house and to other places around here to try to find clothes. And if we found anything, we'd collect it and wash it. It was horrible, and it smelled terrible. Everything was covered in mud.

LEWIS: They've salvaged what they can, some pots and pans and dishes. There's not much else left, really. The rest gets tossed outside. Just in this neighborhood alone, there are 500 families doing the same thing from sunup to sundown. At Tacloban City Hall, it's abuzz with activity as leaders coordinate the relief efforts. Mayor Alfred Romualdez says right now, most of the emphasis is on the commercial sector.

MAYOR ALFRED ROMUALDEZ: They're going to start cleaning up in front of banks, in front of drugstores, where people will frequent. That's the priority.

LEWIS: One effort is making progress. Along a busy downtown street, about 100 people sift through a massive wreckage pile and move it piece by piece, handing it down in assembly-line fashion to the road. Each person is paid 285 pesos or about $6 for the day. The United Nations is organizing this part of the recovery. The U.N.'s Tim Walsh says it's important to get people back to work.

TIM WALSH: Because, really, our primary motivation at the moment is to get money into the economy, to get people money in their hands, give them something to do, which gives them a certain amount of dignity back in their lives, and something to focus on other than their lost house, their lost relatives, where their next meal is coming from.

LEWIS: At least 100 bulldozers, excavators and dump trucks from the Philippine capital of Manila are on the streets too. There's so much debris, the city has opened three temporary landfills.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUMP TRUCK)

LEWIS: Every minute or so, a massive dump truck backs up to drop a load onto the ever growing pile. But the waste won't stay here. The U.N. is also paying for workers to pick through and separate what can be reused, things like wood, nails and concrete. Walsh says whatever's left over will be sent to the city's permanent landfill. Some of that waste can be a health hazard, too, from rotting food that attracts rodents to containers of standing water that can become a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. The U.N. estimates it will take three months to remove all the debris.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUMP TRUCK)

LEWIS: Back at Paseo de Legaspi Street, there's some happy news for residents. For the first time in days, a bright orange excavator and dump truck rumbled down the street, stopping at each house to scoop up the waste. It doesn't take long, but soon the crews are gone. And already, people begin to dump new piles of trash on the ground. Russell Lewis, NPR News, Tacloban.

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