Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter, in for Marco Werman, and this is The World.
The scale of the devastation in the Philippines is almost beyond comprehension. 10,000 feared dead after their cities and towns were destroyed by one of the most powerful storms ever recorded. Yet the focus now is on helping survivors of typhoon Haiyan. Hundreds of thousands are displaced and in need of basics, like food, water, and shelter. A huge international relief effort is under way, but some local residents are trying to do their share as well.
Kevin Vacca is a former US Marine who's been a missionary in the Philipines for the past 14 years. He and his wife live on Cebu island. He says they were among the first to arrive to the devastated northern tip of Cebu after the storm.

Kevin Vacca: Some areas, there's no house standing. The only thing you see is some mattresses hanging in trees, couches out in the field where houses used to be. Thousands of clothes just hanging on broken branches of trees. People have lost everything.

Schachter: Vacca helped clear the road so relief supplies could get in, including about 500 pounds of rice that he was carrying. The real problem, he says, is the lack of clean water.

Vacca: Most of these small towns have these little bottled water filtration family businesses. Those that have a generator are making water for people to drink, but there's no water for toilets, there's no water for hygiene. It's only water to drink, but we're thankful for that.

Schachter: Vacca estimates that some 75,000 people are homeless today in northern Cebu. Cirilo Cena lives in Lapu Lapu, right next to Cebu City. He and his wife and son are safe, but he still hasn't been able to contact his sister. Cena works from home, providing technical assistance for a US-based company. He answers email messages from American consumers, but today's he's counting his blessings.

Cirilo Cena: I'm lucky. My house is made of concrete, but the roof is made of plastic. That part is destroyed. Those who lost houses here are those who can't afford a concrete house. This coastal area, just five minute's walk from where I am, there are people there who built their houses on the beach.

Schachter: Mmhmm.

Cena: These people don't have... they don't have properties. All their houses are gone. My parents' house, like half of the roof is gone, and my parents are safe so I'm not saying there aren't some good things too.

Schachter: Well, we're happy to hear that.

Cena: But two hours from here, going north, the houses there were just wiped out. You know like, houses made of cards.

Schachter: Do you know, now, that your sister's okay? Have you been able to contact her?

Cena: No, unfortunately, their phones still won't ring. Even my cousin's there, none of their phones ring.

Schachter: You have a job working with an American company, and what do you do?

Cena: I just answer emails for the company. Technical support. For two days I had no connection, no electricity. What I did was I went to the mall. That's how I cope, so I can still do my work. I was still able to make the required hours for the week. I'm lucky, but my other colleague, he lost three days. And my other colleague, 40 minutes from here, she lost two days also.

Schachter: Are you the kind of service where people email and complain? "My service isn't working, my product isn't working," that kind of thing?

Cena: Yeah, we still get those emails complaining.

Schachter: Well, I wonder how it feels for you, with all this devastation around you, to have to answer emails from Americans concerned about a website.

Cena: Yeah, I can't blame them. So when I went back to work, and in the middle of my worrying about my sister, whom I still can't contact, I went back to work, right? And answering complaints of those people, right. Well, they don't know that we are in the Philippines. Only a few knows. And that reality, it's like floating, I can't really think straight, right? Because I just came from a super typhoon. I'm not even sure if my answers were right during that day. And yeah, yeah, you're right, I felt like, "Wow, these people are so concerned about these emails, and they don't know that the person answering them just survived a major catastrophe," right? That's the funny part.

Schachter: Why did you try working at all? Wouldn't it be perfectly reasonable to take a few days off at this time?

Cena: I have to, you know, do my best and secure my job. I mean, I have to answer these people's problems, though they're very small problems about their website. But I need to make sure that I still have a job, you know.

Schachter: That was Cirilo Cena speaking to us earlier from Lapu Lapu City, in the part of the Philippines hit hard by typhoon Haiyan. Jojo Malig is the deputy news editor at ABS-CBN News in the capital, Manila. He says despite the massive relief operation in the Philippines, some of those who need help the most have yet to receive it.

Jojo Malig: It's been terrible. Terrible, quite terrible for the survivors in these last few days. Many have not received aid, they're desperately looking for food, water. They're looting stuff from neighbors, from malls.

Schachter: Do you get the impression, Jojo, that the looters are people desperate for food, or are they people, you know, trying to get what they can grab?

Malig: They're driven by desperation. They have lost everything. They've lost their houses, they've lost their belongings, and it does not reach them. The roads are closed. The airport has been reopened, and efforts are underway, but I hope it reaches them in time.

Schachter: Jojo, the Philippines are said to be the most exposed to tropical storms in the world because of its location along the ring of fire, or the typhoon belt. You've certainly gone through a lot of natural disasters in just the past ten years. How are people in general dealing with all this?

Malig: We've been dealing with it, oh, I think in a rather good way. We try to bounce back every time we get hit. But many lessons have to be learned to go through the recent typhoon. Efforts were made to bring people to safer ground, but some people died inside evacuation centers themselves. And perhaps the government should reassess emergency procedures.

Schachter: Some of these storms, though, seem next to impossible to really fight.

Malig: Yep, yep. There ought to be a more comprehensive program in regards to preparing and evacuating people out of harm's way.

Schachter: Editor Jojo Malig, with ABS-CBN News in Manila.