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Typhoon Yolanda – Mass Grave in San Joaquin

Typhoon Yolanda – Mass Grave in San Joaquin, Palo, Leyte

It’s been a while not posting here, but it does not mean I have stopped shooting. In fact, it’s quite the opposite… I have shot around thousands of shots by now for the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. It’s been a difficult task between balancing the chores of shooting while at the same time facing the enormous challenge in restoring from the wrath of the typhoon. Life has been quite different by now, but can’t complain, life goes on.

I’ve been there earlier this week, to visit the mass grave in San Joaquin, a town of Palo which was one of the most heavily hit places. Around a 25-minute car drive from Tacloban City. The experience was eerie and sorrowful, a mixture of both. In fact, I had trouble shooting some of the scenes, it was difficult to see through the viewfinder and feeling the emotions that was all around you.



The mass grave is in the front yard of the parish church, which has already 370 bodies buried to date, according to the Barangay Captain of San Joaquin.



Make it 371 bodies. That afternoon, upon arriving in San Joaquin, I immediately noticed a group of people, but as you can see, the people had move away and covered their noses from the white body bag which apparently was exposed in what seemed to be an unrecognizable dead body just retrieved that same day from one of the outskirts of San Joaquin.



All I saw from a few meters away were just mud and soil. But upon closer inspection, it was confirmed to be a human skull, bones and clothing. (The above photo is just a crop of the same photo that preceded it right above.) Please be aware it is already 116 days from November 8, 2013 (photos were taken on March 4, 2014). I think this just shows to us the scale and magnitude of this catastrophic event that still haunts us ever so freshly up to this day.



The Barangay Captain (left) has instructed some of the volunteers to immediately dig a makeshift grave. I salute these men, who have responded to help bury the dead, at least to give a final resting place.



The dead body was only identified with the clothing that came with it, but no positive identification has been made.




They buried the dead body, made a makeshift crucifix, and called on the parish priest to do the final rites and prayers. RIP.



Most likely a favorite toy offered at the grave.



A woman visited her departed loved ones.



The tombstone (in this case was a piece of plywood) that listed the names and birth dates. All died on the same fateful day, November 8, 2013.



I’ve noticed there were a lot of babies and young kids, the most vulnerable and helpless.



Offerings of candles, flowers and mostly prayers.



The two of them are cousins, and beneath them are the graves of their grandmother and mother/aunt.



It was nearing dark as the night started to creep in but a lot of them still stayed even until after dark…



He lost his wife and their kid. All alone now, he told me that he has difficulty in sleeping at night.


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I decided to share these photos and experience, but had my share of hesitance in the first place. But, hoping that in my own little way, with these photos – I’m able to share to you a bigger picture on what really happened on that tragic day that is said to be the strongest typhoon recorded in human history.

The pain that this tragedy has brought is bigger than one can imagine. I offer my prayers to those who were heavily affected by the typhoon. May you find comfort in these times of sorrow.

God be with us.


Photographer’s note: Leica M Monochrom, Leica Summicron-M 28mm 2 ASPH

  • kathryn lustig - Your photographs have touched me deeply, Dave. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in San Joaquin in the 1960’s and I lived with the Villas family in the white house on the main street near the church. I am still in touch with some family members in San Joaquin & in Manila and especially since last November’s typhoon hit. I am now trying to find out how the barrio fared in the current storm. That is how I came across your photos here.ReplyCancel

    • xdayv - Kathryn, thank you for your kind words. It’s good to know that you’ve been in touch with them especially at these times. All the best!ReplyCancel

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