Days had passed since Girlyn Antillon had heard any word from her parents, her six siblings or any other family members, all stranded in the Philippine city of Tacloban ground zero for the devastation wreaked by Supertyphoon Haiyan. Finally, on Nov. 12, four days after Haiyan made landfall, Antillon caught a ferry from Cebu to the port of Baybay on the island of Leyte. From there she and a colleague hitched a three-hour ride to Tacloban. The roads were strewn with downed power lines and tin roofs that had been scattered by the force of the storm. And there were hungry children, their hands outstretched, carrying homemade signs that read only help. Closer to the city, the haphazard piles of debris grew, and the first corpses were visible.
Unlike most other tropical storms, which weaken before they hit land, Haiyan struck the central Philippines at near peak strength, with sustained winds estimated at 195 m.p.h. and gusts of up to 230 m.p.h. If confirmed, that would make Haiyan the most powerful tropical storm ever recorded to make landfall.
Haiyan's strength and the wall of seawater it brought ashore overwhelmed the Philippine government's disaster preparations. Officials put the death toll at around 2,500 a figure many aid workers believe is too low while some 670,000 Filipinos have been displaced. Slowly, too slowly, aid has begun to reach the worst-hit areas. But getting help to people is proving extraordinarily difficult.