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Desperation, resilience in Tacloban: 'We really don't know what we're going to do'

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 2:26 PM EST, Thu November 14, 2013
A man reconstructs his house in the bay of Tacloban, Leyte province, Philippines, on Wednesday, November 27, 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record, hit the country's eastern seaboard on November 8, leaving a wide swath of destruction, including more than 5,000 deaths. A man reconstructs his house in the bay of Tacloban, Leyte province, Philippines, on Wednesday, November 27, 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record, hit the country's eastern seaboard on November 8, leaving a wide swath of destruction, including more than 5,000 deaths.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tacloban, Philippines, was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan
  • Some sought shelter at convention center, which was hit by storm surge
  • Rice is handed out there for the first time since the massive storm
  • People line up at the airport, hoping to leave the city

Tacloban, Philippines (CNN) -- People sift through debris in the dark, wading through murky puddles formed after frequent, heavy rain showers. Along some streets, groups sit among the stinking piles of wreckage, huddled around small fires cooking food.

This is life in Tacloban. Or, more accurately, people's attempts to hold onto life.

So much has changed over the past six days in this Philippine city on the Pacific Ocean, some 575 kilometers (360 miles) southeast of Manila.

That's when, early last Friday, Super Typhoon Haiyan stormed through with sustained winds of 315 kph (195 mph), and gusts of 380 kph (235 mph).

Aid, troops head to Philippines, but will it be enough?

The evidence of Haiyan's power is everywhere: Most buildings are damaged, if not destroyed. Bloated corpses of dogs lie on the ground, next to body bags containing human remains.

Faces of Typhoon Haiyan
Numerous obstacles hamper typhoon aid
Race to save typhoon victims

While the intensity surprised some, most residents knew something big was coming.

May May Gula, 30, was among those who'd heeded officials' warnings and taken shelter at the Tacloban Convention Center. She and some others managed to get to the building's higher levels when the devastating storm surge roared in from the sea.

That last move may have saved their lives. Many who remained on the ground floor were killed or injured, according to Gula and her friend Lina Reforzado.

By Thursday, Gula and her relatives huddled in a room on the building's ground floor along with members of seven other families.

Their homes destroyed, they and others have transformed the building into a living space of sorts. Clothes hang from the upper floors, and makeshift shelters constructed from storm debris have sprung up around it.

Man's desperate search for wife, child in Philippines

Finally on Thursday, they tasted rice -- the staple of Filipinos' diets -- for the first time in a week, after it was given out at the convention center for the first time since the typhoon struck.

But they said they didn't know when the next delivery might come. Nor do they know what they'll do, or where they'll go from here.

Said Gula: "We really don't know what we're going to do next."

There are flickers of "normal" life around Tacloban. A pig shrieking as it's being pushed into a building for slaughter. An animal carcass butchered in front of another structure. A few vendors selling pork.

But for most, food remains desperately scarce.

At the airport, you see large groups hoping to leave this shattered city.

A queue of people, taking shelter from the fierce sun and intermittent rain under colorful umbrellas, snakes out of the remnants of the terminal building and into the wreckage-laden parking area.

Some seem particularly in need of a quick exit. One man stands holding an intravenous drip for his wife, who sits on a chair clutching a pallid young child.

No one knows whether they'll make it out before it's too late.

How to help

CNN's Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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