Ormoc, Leyte – Just hours before Typhoon Haiyan made its first landfall in the Philippines, churches across this predominantly Catholic country called on the faithful to say the “Oratio Imperata”, a Latin prayer for protection during major catastrophes.
It proved to be an ominous warning.
On Monday, three days into the disaster, hundreds of thousands of homeless families are still left dazed, trying to absorb the enormity of the typhoon that killed thousands of people and destroyed entire villages.
After surviving the 300km per hour winds, many victims are now struggling to find food, water and medicine, with the government unable to deliver immediate help in some areas.
“We did not expect that the devastation would be this overwhelming,” Edward Codilla, the mayor of Ormoc City, told Al Jazeera. “I witnessed the 1991 Ormoc flood, which killed almost 8,000 people, and this is definitely worse in terms of damage to properties.”
Ormoc’s city hall was trashed; its glass windows blown out. The local disaster agency has set up a makeshift office in the debris-strewn lobby.
Bienvenido Matiga, the head of the Ormoc’s disaster response team, told Al Jazeera that at least 21 people were dead, 106 injured and there were 8,000 evacuees. Some areas remain isolated.
The second-largest city in Leyte province, Ormoc has about 200,000 residents and is located about 120km south of Tacloban City, the area worst hit by the storm.
‘It was so sudden’
As of Monday, phone communication were partially restored, but electricity were not. One of the city’s three hospitals has also closed. Petrol has been rationed, and queues can stretch for two blocks.
Haiyan barrelled through Ormoc at least four hours earlier than forecasters expected.
When the storm came, Imelda Amodia, principal of the local high school, was still coordinating the evacuation of 1,000 people at the school buildings.
“It was so sudden,” Amodia told Al Jazeera. “We could not really do anything at that point, except to hide in the bathroom and [say] the rosary [prayers] for hours.”
When Haiyan left Ormoc, about 90 percent of the roofs of the school buildings and other structures in the city were gone, according to an estimate provided to Al Jazeera by Leo Carmelo Locsin Jr, Ormoc’s vice mayor.
Debris was scattered around the city, with fallen trees blocking the road. The upper walls of the city’s seafront gym were also destroyed. Many of the structures in the city are still standing, but they look like they have been skinned, with their roofs shaved off.
“It looks like an apocalyptic disaster,” Sandra Bulling, a worker with the humanitarian agency Care International, told Al Jazeera on Monday. “I saw a girl drying her books outside. She said her house is gone, and all she has left are her school books.”
‘My only source of living is gone’
Haiyan first hit Samar and Leyte, about 600km southeast of the Philippine capital Manila, early on Friday morning. In all, it made six landfalls across the central part of the country, known as the Visayas region.
I saw a girl drying her books outside. She said her house is gone, and all she has left are her school books.
“A lot of people lost their homes,” said Jed Daria Dillo. “Most of the homes are made of light materials, so they were easily swept away by the typhoon. The houses that were made of concrete were not spared, as the roofs were also blown away.”
In Roxas City, the capital of Capiz, another resident said that trees and electric posts were all knocked down. There is no electricity or water.
Only a month ago, Bohol was hit by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake. Last Friday, the survivors of that disaster had to leave again due to flooding.
According to the US Navy’s weather observers, the typhoon had a maximum sustained wind speed of 300km an hour.
“The last time I saw something of this scale was during the Indian Ocean tsunami,” Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, a UN representative, was quoted by local media as saying.
By the seaport of Ormoc, Cesar Alogbate and two other fishermen sat by a stilt hut made of storm debris, staring at their destroyed boats.
“My house is destroyed,” Alogbate said. “Now my only source of living is also gone.”