The ghost of a remembered place

Text and photos by LUIS LIWANAG

TACLOBAN City — A palette of magenta and orange filled the eastern skies at daybreak, the silhouette of windswept trees whispered poetry, and a sea breeze cooled my face.

This was my fleeting memory of Tacloban, a city I had passed through just a few months ago, on the way to and back from another destination. I saw the city’s beauty, as well as its promise: thriving commerce and the assurance of abundance.

I was passing through on my to St Bernard in Southern Leyte, where seven years ago, a mudslide buried a whole community and killed hundreds of people, including many children. Ironically, the event I was going to was one about disaster preparedness, an issue that has become all too urgent for Leyte.

I have often wondered about Leyte, where my maternal grandfather originally hailed from. He talked about his hometown, Burauen, and visited it often. Relatives came to see us in Manila but our generation never really bothered to visit the place and acquaint ourselves with our roots. I promised myself a number of times I would visit, to connect with long forgotten relatives.

I also wanted to get reacquainted with history, because somewhere along Leyte’s beaches is where the American Gen. Douglas MacArthur along with American and Filipino soldiers, landed to reclaim the country from the grip of the Japanese army in the World War II.

“I shall return,” said MacArthur back in 1944. “I shall return,” I told myself, just like MacArthur, with whom I happened to share a birthdate.

I did return, but not to the pleasant and embracing atmosphere I remember experiencing when I passed through months ago. I returned to document the effects of Typhoon Haiyan on Tacloban, the city I never knew, smashed and devastated before I got a chance to be acquainted with it.

Tacloban was the ghost of a place I remember. It had turned into a city of ghettoes. The hungry and thirsty walked the streets, chaos frozen in the pictures that will go down in history as social documents.

This is what I saw. As I recorded Tacloban’s awesome daybreak in time-lapse fashion all the way into nightfall, I hope the images will speak for themselves, and make a plea for help and recovery.

Debris strewn all over in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. (Photo by LUIS LIWANAG)
Debris strewn all over a village in Tacloban in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. (Photo by LUIS LIWANAG)

a creek filled with debris