Sat, Feb 08, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Philippine city still stuck after storm

Months after last year’s Typhoon Haiyan, the city of Tacloban suffers an exodus of jobs amid stalled reconstruction efforts

By Keith Bradsher  /  NY Times News Service, TACLOBAN, Philippines

Illustration: Tania Chou

As Jesse Siozon waited for his grandfather’s funeral to begin, beneath the orange and blue tarps that serve as the roof for the storm-damaged Santo Nino Church, he spoke of a double loss.

His grandfather may well have been the last person in this bedraggled city to succumb to injuries and illnesses brought on by Typhoon Haiyan. And now Siozon, a 30-year-old nurse, is being forced to leave Tacloban, his family’s hometown for four generations, because efforts to rebuild have stalled and jobs have disappeared for skilled workers like him.

“I wish I could have worked here,” he said, as sunlight streamed through the hole in a stained-glass window donated by his grandfather.

“I don’t even have a place to live here,” he said.

Nearly three months after some of the strongest sustained winds ever recorded drove ashore a wall of water more than 7m high, this once-thriving university town and provincial capital shows relatively few signs of economic recovery despite an international rescue effort. At night, it is mainly plunged into darkness, and the few temporary houses completed by the government have been declared too cramped for human habitation.

The city is caught in a spiral of deprivation that will be hard to break, especially given the scope of a catastrophe that killed at least 6,000 people and was the deadliest natural disaster in the world last year.

Without power and other basics, businesses are finding it difficult to recover. Without commerce, the city will continue to lose money — and talent.

The continuing confusion has left this city, which once envisioned becoming a new economic hub, struggling to hold on to young and talented residents. Like Siozon, they are leaving for work elsewhere in the Philippines’ growing economy.

“The young professionals whom I know have left, because of the quality of life here,” Tacloban Deputy Mayor Jerry Yaokasin said. “When I look around, it is as if it happened yesterday — there is still so much devastation.”

Sitting in a modest second-floor office, in a municipal building where the first floor was gutted by the storm, Yaokasin checked off the list of people he knows who have left. His cousin, a lawyer, now works for a large company in Manila. The secretary at his church took a job at a call center in Cebu, on another island 160km away.

Even students have left. More than a third of the 1,370 students at the University of the Philippines campus here have transferred to other campuses. Another 130 dropped out, some because they could no longer afford to attend. Enrollment has dropped by a third at the 1,900-student ACLC College, which teaches mainly computer skills but has been reduced to classroom lectures because its computers were destroyed in the storm.

The flight of those most able to find opportunities elsewhere is leaving behind a city of the poor, including those left destitute by the typhoon.

Almil Rama is a 35-year-old kindergarten teacher who lost her husband and house in the storm and now lives with her three children in a room rented from a friend.

The storm killed 22 of the kindergartners at her school, San Jose Elementary, and 94 students soon moved away with their families and have not come back. The school still has 137 kindergartners, but it lost its books and its ceiling fan in the storm. Even if the fan is replaced, there is no power to run it.

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