Photographer Dan Kitwood discusses his work documenting the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
On November 14th, I arrived at Tacloban airport with my colleague Chris McGrath. We realized immediately that we had arrived at ground zero, and the gravity of the situation hit us immediately. It was complete and utter carnage.
This was going to be a tough assignment.
Setting up camp
Having had two of our three tents and most of our food taken from us at Cebu airport due to the small size of the plane, we had to get set up quickly with somewhere safe to put our tent. We also had to establish where we were going to get food, power and water from as a matter of urgency.
After weighing up several options we decided to position ourselves at the airport at least for the first few days until we found somewhere better and had a fuller understanding of the situation on the ground.
With the aid of some old car batteries, and bits of debris that were scattered around us, we managed to make a decent enough job of attaching our tent to the floor. It wasn’t perfect but given the circumstances it was going to have to do.
With C130’s taking off a matter of yards away from camp we realized that it certainly wasn’t going to be the quietest place to set up camp but that was the least of our worries.
Logistically however, this was a good place to be with the best chance of gaining access to the military helicopters that were delivering aid to some of the more remote and inaccessible areas of Leyte and Samar Islands. It was also safe, and there was a good supply of bottled water.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Personal Collection
An aerial view
The first challenge was going to be to get airborne, and with an hour or so of daylight left, I had managed to secure a spot on one of the Philippine Air Force Helicopters that was to do an air drop on Homonhon Island off Eastern Samar, which up until that point had received no aid.
On taking off, I was overwhelmed by the scale of the devastation below me. It seemed never ending as we hugged the coastline on route to Homonhan.
Caption: LEYTE, PHILIPPINES – NOVEMBER 14: An aerial view of a demolished town on Eastern Samar Island on November 14, 2013 in Leyte, Philippines. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Over the next few days we witnessed devastation on a monumental scale. I realized that trying to make sense visually of what was before us was going to be challenging. There was destruction all around, bodies lying in the street, people scavenging for any possessions they could find amongst the debris, trying desperately to put their lives back together.
At first glance, the situation seemed hopeless. Where do you start when you have lost everything, when you can’t even see the ground beneath your feet?
Caption: LEYTE, PHILIPPINES – NOVEMBER 19: A man fans flames on a fire Tanauan on November 19, 2013 in Leyte, Philippines. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The ability to adapt
But these were not hopeless people, and this situation was not hopeless.
As the days passed, and I traveled from town to village meeting people who had lost loved ones as well as their homes and their livelihoods, I was struck with a sense not of despair, but of hope.
The resilience of the Filipino people and ability to adapt in the face of such hardship was overwhelming. I was humbled.
Caption: LEYTE, PHILIPPINES – NOVEMBER 22: Villagers carry religious statues during a procession before taking part in a Latin mass ceremony at a local Chapel in Santa Rita township on November 22, 2013 in Eastern Samar, Philippines. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Caption: LEYTE, PHILIPPINES – NOVEMBER 18: A family gather around a grave of a relative that was killed when Typhoon Haiyan struck their home on November 18, 2013 in Leyte, Philippines. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
As the days passed, I wanted to find an image that encapsulated that hope, while speaking of the unrelenting force of the Typhoon. I wanted to make a picture that would make best sense of the story. I have chosen this image of a snapped palm.
Caption: LEYTE, PHILIPPINES – NOVEMBER 19: Two broken palm trees stand snapped in half on the beach near Tananau on November 19, 2013 in Leyte, Philippines. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The tree is one of the first things that would have felt the force of the Typhoon as it hit landfall, and was unmercifully snapped in half.
For me this speaks of the magnitude of the Typhoon and what Mother Nature is capable of delivering.
In defiance though, it still stands, a V for victory, and like the Filipino people will grow and bear fruit again.Explore more of Dan Kitwood’s work