The tarmac trembles beneath a dozen thundering engines as a trio of U.S. military C-130 aircraft prepare to carry away the mass of people assembled at the Tacloban airport.
Soon, a rush of people emerges from the shambles of the terminal. A man limps, his arms on the shoulders of friends. A frail elderly woman wearing a mask slowly makes her way out. Behind them, the throng. Men and women, some with toddlers and infants, most carrying barely anything at all. There are backpacks and handbags but very few suitcases in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, which laid wasted to the nearby town of 250,000.
Many here have very few belongings left. They are leaving because what was once home is now, for many, a wasteland – the only accommodations those banged together into shanties made from debris.
And so, more than half a week after the winds and the rising waters flattened Tacloban and a series of nearby municipalities, people are leaving. The exit flights are offered free of charge, a combination of military evacuations and departures on commercial aircraft that on Tuesday marked their first full day of resumed service.
Even those coming in to the disaster zone were here in large measure because they want to pull others out.
“I have to get my mother. She refuses to leave. She is 84 years old,”says Sandy Veloso, who together with her family owns a hotel in Tacloban. Her brothers have attempted to persuade the mother to find safer haven elsewhere. They have, so far, failed.
“I think if a daughter comes, maybe she will come with me,” says Ms. Veloso.
Typhoons strike Tacloban with regularity, but in the past people have always found ways to pull through. In 1987, a particularly wicked storm knocked out electricity for three months. Alain Alda remembers it with a touch of fondness.
It offered time to “be a family,” he says. “There was no TV so everybody talked to each other. Nobody went out. Just one big happy family.”
This time is far different. He has come from Manila to return to Tacloban to retrieve his father, brother and sister-in-law, who is eight months pregnant. Thoughts of rebuilding are far from his mind.
“I heard a lot of people say it’s good to go to Manila or transfer to other provinces. Leave Leyte until things settle down.” Leyte is the island where Tacloban is located.
When they leave, Mr. Alda’s family will join him in Manila, where he lives in a one-bedroom condo. Come December they will be six adults and a newborn.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he says. “But I am looking forward to it. It’s our second lease on life as a family. Things could have been worse. At least they are still alive.”