Chaos and Solidarity in Tacloban, the Philippines

Yann Libessart/MSF


Arriving in Tacloban City, the Philippines, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staffer Yann Libessart encountered devastation and chaos, yet he was stunned at the peacefullness of those whose lives have been completely uprooted.


At last, commercial flights have resumed regular movements between Cebu and Tacloban. Even before landing, the vision of the coast is horrific. Every single building has been destroyed.

Thousands of people have gathered at the airport, looking for help and hoping for an evacuation. There is absolutely no panic. People are lining up calmly, although they’ve already been waiting for a couple days. Even when the soldiers throw chocolate bars to the hungry crowd, everyone tries to catch one without a single fight. Filipino soldiers are incredibly helpful and polite. I actually don’t remember having ever encountered soldiers that nice.

Solidarity is everywhere. People are sharing the little they still have. The kids play everywhere, with anything. I am always astonished to see how kids manage to stay kids in such apocalyptic situations.

The flow of evacuated survivors crosses the flow of local and foreign militaries, international NGOs, and reporters arriving from all over the globe. Nobody knows where they’re going to sleep tonight. We managed to find some space inside a local hotel to spend the night.

Chaos is everywhere. Reaching the city center is the first challenge. Functioning and fuelled-up vehicles are really hard to find. Many are moving using local rickshaws.

The city of Tacloban is filled with detritus and body bags. The smell is intolerable. I share some of my tiger balm with those who have no mask against the terrible smell.

MSF is looking for a location to set up an inflatable hospital that should arrive over the weekend by boat. This morning, we visited Bethany hospital, which was totally abandoned and badly damaged. We hoped this place could be an option for the inflatable hospital but the amount of debris is such that it would probably take weeks to clean up. We keep looking.

Information remains incredibly difficult to obtain. The mobile network is getting better by the day though. Governmental agencies are very active and efficient, so are the army forces.

A massive supply needs to be set up from Cebu. Our drugs and some material will arrive today by helicopter. Our two doctors should be able to start treating patients. Unfortunately, it’s too late for big trauma emergencies related to the typhoon. Those who had four days to live are either dead or have been evacuated by plane. Our concern is now more about infected wounds and obstetric/gynecological emergencies. Due to the scarcity of drinkable water, other water-born pathologies could soon appear.

People are basically in need of everything. This is Tacloban City. I can only imagine the situation being worse in more isolated areas.

MSF teams are currently present in several typhoon-affected areas, including Samar, Leyte, Panay, and Cebu islands.

Tacloban airport Thursday, Nov 14.
Yann Libessart/MSF