Reynolds School alumnus Koji Ueda recently covered the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan for the Associated Press (AP), Tokyo Bureau. He wrote to Professor Emeritus Warren Lerude via email to share the story of this devastatingly impactful, life-changing experience. Below is a description of what he saw.
“When I saw the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban City, the worst-hit city in Philippines, from a window of the plane, it reminded me of the Tsunami coverage in Japan, 2011.
Nothing but a few reinforced concrete structures were left. I landed at Tacloban’s barely functioning airport four days after the typhoon hit the island. The scene was chaotic. There was broken glass on the floor because the typhoon blasted out every window of the airport buildings including its control tower. Electric generators were running, serving as the only functioning power source. The inside of the airport was covered in mud and all kinds of debris including upturned cargo trolleys, aviation equipment and jagged tin roofs. There was also a very strong, unpleasant odor emanating from the debris. There were also hundreds of people waiting to get off the island by military relief airplanes. Individuals looking to evacuate included newborn infants, pregnant women and elderly people.
Hundreds of evacuees lined up in the blazing sun, and sometimes in squalor, for days. There was not enough food and water to meet the demand of the evacuees at the airport. These individuals had to sleep on the ground by using their backpack as their pillow and a blue sheet as their blanket. I saw a woman crying and holding a baby because she had no idea when she would be able to get out from this tragic situation. I’m a father of 10-year-old son. When I saw a boy whose height and size was similar to my son, I couldn’t withstand the line of tears slowly slipping down my cheeks and was filled with a feeling of inability. I persuaded myself time and again that I can’t make the situation better for them, but I can report the situation to the world to show the reality of their experience in the aftermath of Haiyan.
The AP set up a makeshift office in the airport compound by using a broken booth and rubble. We had a generator to supply power, so we were able to use our camera to film, laptop to edit and the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) to file stories.
I was lucky because I arrived in the Philippines on the same days as a couple of fully-loaded vans with bottles of water, food and other essential goods from the AP’s Manila bureau. My colleagues spent two days driving these vans from Manila to Tacloban. I had a minimum food supply to survive while covering this story. I ate rice, canned beef and noodles and drank tepid coke three times each day. There was a hand-operated water pump near the Philippine troops’ tents, so I was able to wash myself. I slept in a tiny tent. My alarm clock was the loud noise of choppers at five o’clock in the morning. There was no toilet… After spending 10 days in Tacloban, I realized the preciousness of my normal life at home.”
Koji Ueda is a member of the Reynolds School of Journalism Class of 1999.