Palo Alto's sister city suffers in typhoon aftermath | November 15, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 15, 2013

Palo Alto's sister city suffers in typhoon aftermath

Mass graves, hunger in Palo in Philippines, City of Palo Alto to donate $10,000

by Sue Dremann

In the aftermath of Super Typhoon Hayian, Palo Alto's Philippine sister city, Palo, Leyte Island, is struggling to cope with severe devastation and a rising body count, according to Philippine news reports.

With news getting increasingly grimmer, the Palo Alto's City Council agreed on Tuesday to immediately contribute $10,000 to the relief effort, as suggested by Councilwoman Karen Holman. Mayor Greg Scharff also adjourned the Tuesday meeting in honor of the devastated city.

"I think as a community we really need to come together on this and help out our sister city," Scharff said.

The council and several speakers also urged local residents to send donations for relief to: Neighbors Abroad, P.O. Box 52004, Palo Alto, CA 94303.

The typhoon made landfall on Friday, Nov. 8, in the eastern Philippines just east of Leyte Island. The storm packed maximum sustained winds of 195 mph and gusts of up to 235 mph, according to the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

Haiyan is considered one of the most powerful storms of its kind to make landfall. News agencies report that thousands of people have died as a result of the storm. Some estimates put the number in the island's nearby capitol city of Tacloban as high as 10,000.

Official government estimates have downgraded the death toll at 2,000 to 2,500, according to Philippine news sources. But since many areas remain unreachable due to blocked roads and power outages, the true loss remains unknown.

In Palo, a coastal city of 62,727 people, church and government officials have buried at least 150 people in a mass grave. For days, the deceased were left on the heavily damaged church's floor, Philippine GMA News reported this week.

There was more grim news:

"Almost all 983 Eastern Visayas policemen based in Palo, Leyte are still missing after a 15-meter-high storm surge hit their headquarters at the height of typhoon Yolanda," tweeted ABS-CBN journalist Leo Lastimosa.

Palo still remains largely isolated and without communication, according to reports. But people used social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to describe first-hand what is happening in the city.

They wrote that bodies lay in muddy water in the streets and that residents desperate for food and water were looting. But some people are now tweeting that relatives have been found alive.

Cleve Arguelles tweeted a picture from a friend of damage to the University of the Philippines Manila School of Health Sciences in Palo, now a ghostly building with its windows and roof blown out.

"Water, food badly needed," he wrote.

Elise Aguilar shared a series of emails from a friend who traveled on Saturday from the island's devastated capitol, Tacloban, to Palo in search of missing relatives:

"People are starving."

"Not enough food, water or gas."

"Relief goods are not being well distributed. No rescue team."

"I've been walking for two days now, with water and food. I have to voluntarily share my food and they would thank me. Some would offer us a ride."

"I only have 1/4 of a 12 oz. of water left."

And: "My family is okay, but we need to evacuate or else we might die of starvation."

The friend was critical of government authorities and the media, which she said exaggerated the situation by claiming people are turning to violence. There is rampant looting, but it is caused by the need for food and water, she added.

"People are starving but not killing each other here ... Government officials, stop bragging (that there is) more than enough relief goods and rescue team! That is b******t!" she wrote.

Others pleaded for information about loved ones.

"I'm looking for my uncle Jesus Barrera and family from Palo Leyte. He is partially blind. I'm looking for my 93 y/o grandpa Alejandro Reposar, He needs medical assistance," wrote Angeline Salumbides.

On Twitter, journalists reported largely through photographs and videos. They showed a makeshift cross marking the mass grave in a stark, muddy landscape pocked with piles of debris and barren trees; in one video a half-naked boy with his body smeared in sandy soil cries.

"What can I do but give him a bottle of water and my sandwich?" wrote ABS-CBN news executive Charie Villa, who posted the Instagram video.

Few structures in Palo remain standing, people wrote. On Red Beach, the bronze monument of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his men, who landed there during the 1944 World War II liberation of the Philippines, are among the few things left standing, the Philippine Star noted.

Ruth Carleton, vice president in charge of Palo for Neighbors Abroad, which has cultivated the sister-city cultural relationship with Palo since 1963, said the group is worried about friends and colleagues there. Since the typhoon roared onshore, Neighbors Abroad members have sought word of their sister city's plight, but as of yet there's been no reply.

"We are waiting on pins and needles. Knowing the area well, I can say the river's right there and the bay is right there. It would be a hard place to be," she said.

Watching Philippine news reports, the group learned that Palo's mayor has survived. But they have heard nothing from other friends. Neighbors Abroad has been sponsoring a children's library in Palo for many years. Its fate is unknown.

"We are particularly concerned about our librarians," she said.

One bit of good news trickled out of Palo on Wednesday. A Houston, Texas, man, Harry Davis, contacted the Weekly for help while searching for his son last Saturday after reading a Palo Alto Online story about Palo.

When the typhoon hit, Phillip Burgay was visiting his fiance and her daughter in Palo. The couple were preparing to move to the U.S. and to marry. Days of fruitless searching had left Davis and his wife, Deloris, exhausted.

But Phillip finally telephoned the couple on Wednesday from the only call center. He and his family-to-be are safe, Davis said. Burgay said conditions in Palo are horrific, and they are trying to go to another island. From there, they plan to get out of the country and return to Texas as soon as they can, Davis said. That night, he and Deloris planned to open a bottle of champagne.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at


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