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A letter from Cobbie Palm in the Philippines

November 2013

Typhoon Yolanda: Update November 12, 2013

The torrential rains have now gone, the storm surge has receded, and the powerful winds of Typhoon Haiyan (Philippine name Yolanda) have moved on out of the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR). We are just beginning to see the horrific devastation it has inflicted on communities in its path.  It is far beyond our worst imagination.

The satellite images gave the impression that its powerful wrath would consume the whole country from Luzon to Mindanao.  We were prepared in Dumaguete, but this typhoon was unique.  It looked like a typhoon but acted like a tornado.  It came and devastated with immense power on a path that had a relatively small diameter of approximately 150 kilometers (100 miles).  Unlike other typhoons that reach further out with destructive wind and rain, this hybrid typhoon stayed very close to its eye.  The wind rotation speed, recorded at landfall in Samar and Leyte to be 315–340 kilometers per hour (195–200 mph), is said to be the strongest typhoon to hit land on record.   In comparison, many of us still remember Hurricane Katrina, whose devastating power is recorded at 280 kilometers per hour (175 mph).  

Because of this hybrid typhoon, communities outside of the 150-kilometer diameter rim of the storm spin were spared its wrath.  Dumaguete City, just 40 kilometers south of the rim, experienced minimal damage.  We were prepared for the worst but were surprised with the light wind and rainfall. 

Dumaguete City, where Dessa and I are and where we are hosting former PC(USA) Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow and have under our watch four PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteers, was spared from the destruction; we are all safe, healthy and well.

However, watching the television reports on the morning of the typhoon landfall, Friday, November 8, the television news team reporting on the impact of the storm in Tacloban City, Leyte, a city in the path of the eye of the typhoon, showed scenes comparable only to the hit of a tornado, and suddenly everything went off—the screen went blank.  Reporting from Leyte suddenly ended.

With Dumaguete suffering from little rain and wind, we had no idea that the silence from the news crew was due to the massive destruction of Tacloban City, including every town and community in the path of this hybrid typhoon.  It was not until Sunday that the television networks were able to report again from Leyte. We learned only then that the storm surge through the city had created a tsunami-type flood through the streets that was reported to be 12–16 feet high, destroying and taking with it all the camera equipment, forcing the news crew to retreat to higher ground.  As the storm unleashed its 340-kilometer-an-hour winds for a sustained two to three hours, the city came apart, electric poles and lines came down, putting an end to electricity; satellite stations came crashing, ending phone and cellphone communication; the airport tower terminal was destroyed; trees and debris fell over roadways, rendering it not possible to access the region.  Leyte was cut off.

It has now been four days since this hybrid typhoon ravaged through the Philippines.  The community of Silliman University gathered in a worship service to commiserate and pray.  Images were shown of the devastation; the faces of survivors are broken, confused, lost.  What had been busy streets are now piles of used and mangled lumber, plywood, furniture, appliances caked in mud.  Hospitals and schools are merely shells without windows and roofing.   Food and water is now scarce.  The death toll is ever increasing into the thousands.

A young student rose and walked forward to share her testimony.  “After three sleepless nights,” she said, “this morning I finally heard from my parents; they are alive.” But she went on: “It is me who stands before you on behalf of my fellow province mates,” a teary-eyed group of students she pointed out sitting together in the congregation. “They are not able to speak yet, they are not able to sleep yet, because they have heard nothing, nothing, so far from their families.”

Cobbie Palm

The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, pp. 56-57
Read more about Cobbie and Dessa Palm's ministry

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