Larsen, a 35-year-old Dane, had just moved to the Philippines, and he visited the hometown of his girlfriend to explore the idea of living there. “We had a lovely evening,” he recalled Sunday, “and then hell started.”
Two days after typhoon Haiyan ravaged the coastal town on the island of Leyte and shortly after he escaped to Manila, Larsen described Tacloban as “World War III.”
He and his girlfriend spent eight hours standing in line at the airport, scared for their safety and waiting for space on a military airplane that had been transporting relief supplies between Tacloban and the capital. Larsen estimates that there were about 1,000 people at the airport trying to do the same thing.
Though he spent most of the typhoon safely in a basement of a home in a small village near Tacloban, it was the aftermath that shook him. The village sustained only minor damage, but a few miles away nearer to the coast was a different world.
“Everything was completely gone,” he said, describing the sights during a two-mile walk from the village. “A foot left of concrete around a building -- just a foot left of it, everything wiped out. Walking on debris and dead people two to three meters high; piles and piles … of dead people under the debris and some laid out on the sides, the ones they pulled out.”
“The gates,” he said, describing the effects of nature’s fury. “How can a metal gate bend when nothing hits it. How can it just bend? How can the wind bend metal?”
The typhoon destroyed countless lives, houses and other buildings and left Tacloban without power or communication on Sunday. Residents were running out of food, water and other vital supplies.
“The city is outlaw now -- this is why we had to run,” Larsen said. “Everything is being looted. Rotten apples can do now what they want. There is no law enforcement; [it’s] a free-for-all. Nobody feels safe, even the Filipinos. And so many have lost their families."
“Hotels, everything -- cash registers, even McDonalds -- everything is looted. Anything that has any value. It’s like a movie.”
But in many cases, he acknowledged, desperation and a need to survive were driving people to break the law.
“People are thinking, 'If I don't steal this, how am I going to feed my children in two to three weeks,’” he said.
With few if any cars and no gas available in Tacloban, Larsen walked about 10 miles to the city’s airport. He describe the roads along the way as “death row.”
“There is nobody, no authorities to clean it up,” he said of the corpses. “It’s just regular people who have moved them out on the street so they don't have to have them in their houses.”
“There were people – babies, children, old people -- laying out on the street, with blisters over their bodies from being dead,” he said. “Hundreds. Hundreds."
"There was death everywhere.”
De Leon is a special correspondent.