Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Mikhaela de Leon

GET UPDATES FROM Mikhaela de Leon
 

"I Learned the Smell of Death"

Posted: 11/12/2013 4:20 pm

Mikahaela de Leon is a Media Officer for World Vision who went missing after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, then found her way back to Manila on Sunday. She wrote this in her diary while waiting to board the C-130 plane bound for Manila from Tacloban.
I learned the smell of death. The stench of at least 1,000 dead bodies hung in the air as I took the longest and most depressing walk of my life. I will never forget that trip to the Tacloban Airport -- it was noontime, and the air was already humid and stale, a far cry from the billowing winds of two days prior. A jeepney driver ahead told us to cover our noses as we passed for the air reeked of the dead. "Where are the bodies?" I asked him, as I didn't see any. "There in the rubble, buried in those collapsed houses. Hundreds of them," he said. I cringed. It didn't take long before I actually saw them. In the streets there were lines of dead bodies -- bloated and stiff, twisted in awkward poses. I had never once imagined myself seeing such a ghastly scene: human corpses and dead animals lying side by side along the highway as though on exhibit. "Yan ang nangyayari sa matitigas ang ulo. Ayaw kasi mag-evacuate kahit sinabihan na." (They were stubborn. They were told to evacuate but they didn't listen.), I heard someone say. I looked away. It felt disrespectful to stare. I walked on. I was only thinking one thing: home.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Survivors bring bags of rice from a warehouse which they stormed due to shortage of food at typhoon-ravaged Tacloban city, Leyte province central Philippines on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

  • Personnel of the Philippines Army 51st engineer corps load water for victims of Typhoon Haiyan at Villamor Air Force Base in Manila, Philippines, Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

  • Residents queue up to receive treatment and relief supplies at Tacloban airport Monday Nov. 11, 2013, following Friday's super typhoon Haiyan that lashed this city and several provinces in central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Residents queue up to receive treatment and relief supplies at Tacloban airport Monday Nov. 11, 2013, following Friday's typhoon Haiyan that lashed this city and several provinces in central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Residents queue up to receive treatment and relief supplies at Tacloban airport Monday Nov. 11, 2013, following Friday's typhoon Haiyan that lashed this city and several provinces in central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Residents queue up to receive treatment and relief supplies at Tacloban airport Monday Nov. 11, 2013, following Friday's typhoon Haiyan that lashed this city and several provinces in central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Residents queue up to receive treatment and relief supplies at Tacloban airport Monday Nov. 11, 2013, following Friday's typhoon Haiyan that lashed this city and several provinces in central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • This aerial photo taken from a Philippine Air Force helicopter shows the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines, Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • An aerial image taken from a Philippine Air Force helicopter shows the devastation of the first landfall by typhoon Haiyan, Monday Nov. 11, 2013 in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Soldiers prepare to load food supplies to a Philippine Air Force helicopter at Tacloban airport Monday Nov. 11, 2013, following Friday's typhoon Haiyan that lashed this city and several provinces in central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • A young survivor carries a bag of rice from a warehouse which they stormed due to shortage of food at Typhoon Haiyan-ravaged Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

  • A man walks home with his son Monday Nov. 11, 2013 following Friday's devastating typhoon that lashed Hernani township, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • This aerial photo taken from a Philippine Air Force helicopter shows the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines, Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Residents walk past the debris as others rebuild their houses Monday Nov. 11, 2013 following Friday's devastating typhoon that lashed Hernani township, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Survivors move past the damages caused by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city, Leyte province central Philippines on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

  • A survivor walks beside a ship that was washed ashore hitting makeshift houses near an oil depot in Tacloban city, Leyte province central Philippines on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

  • Residents rebuild their homes Monday Nov. 11, 2013 following Friday's typhoon Haiyan, that lashed Hernani township, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Government troopers secure a downtown street to maintain order as reports of rampant looting spreads in Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

  • A man, holding a boy, walks past dead bodies along the streets in typhoon-ravaged Tacloban city, Leyte province central Philippines on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

  • A mother cries in relief upon boarding a Philippine Air Force helicopter, Monday Nov. 11, 2013 following Friday's typhoon Haiyan which lashed Guiuan township, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Residents watch as others throw goods from a warehouse in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines Monday, Nov. 11, 2013, after typhoon Haiyan devastated the town Friday. (AP Photo/Ted Aljibe, Pool)

  • Residents rebuild their homes Monday Nov.11, 2013 following Friday's typhoon Haiyan that lashed Hernani township, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Survivors carry bags of rice from a warehouse which they stormed due to shortage of food at typhoon-ravaged Tacloban city, Leyte province central Philippines on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

  • Survivors move past the damages caused by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city, Leyte province central Philippines on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

  • Residents queue up to receive treatment and relief supplies at Tacloban airport Monday Nov.11, 2013, following Friday's typhoon Haiyan that lashed this city and several provinces in central Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • This image provided by NASA shows Typhoon Haiyan taken by Astronaut Karen L. Nyberg aboard the International Space Station Saturday Nov. 9, 2013.

  • Residents look at bodies brought inside a damaged chapel Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, a day after powerful Typhoon Haiyan slammed Tacloban city, in Leyte province in central Philippines.

  • A boy walks past the devastation brought about by powerful typhoon Haiyan at Tacloban city, in Leyte province in central Philippines Saturday Nov. 9, 2013.

  • A man sits in the debris with an uprooted tree seen in background, after powerful typhoon Haiyan slammed into Tacloban, central Philippines on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013.

  • Survivors walk along a dark city as electricity has been cut after powerful Typhoon Haiyan slammed into Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013.

  • A Philippine flag stands amongst the damage caused after powerful Typhoon Haiyan slammed into Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013.

  • A woman stands amidst the devastation brought about by powerful Typhoon Haiyan at Tacloban city, in Leyte province, central Philippines Saturday Nov. 9, 2013.

  • A survivor carries relief goods amongst the devastation after powerful Typhoon Haiyan slammed into Tacloban city, Leyte province central Philippines on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013.

  • A resident sifts through the rubble of his damaged house following a powerful typhoon that hit Tacloban city, in Leyte province, central Philippines Saturday Nov.9, 2013.

  • Tacloban city, devastated by powerful Typhoon Haiyan, is seen in Leyte province, central Philippines Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013.

  • Soldiers load relief supplies for airlift to affected areas Saturday Nov. 9, 2013, a day after powerful typhoon hit Tacloban city, in Leyte province in central Philippines.

  • In this image provided by NOAA Friday Nov. 8, 2013 which was taken at 12:30 a.m. EST shows Typhoon Haiyan as it crosses the Philippines.

  • A resident walks past high waves pounding the sea wall amidst strong winds as Typhoon Haiyan hit the city of Legaspi, Albay province, south of Manila on November 8, 2013.

  • A house is engulfed by the storm surge brought about by powerful typhoon Haiyan that hit Legazpi city, Albay province Friday Nov.8, 2013.

  • Residents clear a road after trees were toppled by strong winds at the onslaught of powerful typhoon Haiyan that hit the island province of Cebu, Philippines, Friday Nov. 8, 2013.

  • Soldiers make the rounds to enforce the evacuation of residents as powerful typhoon Haiyan hits Legazpi city, Albay province about 325 miles south of Manila, Philippines Friday.

  • Fisherman repair their outrigger on the shore of Manila bay as Typhoon Haiyan approached on November 7, 2013. (JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Fisherman repair their outrigger on the shore of Manila bay as Typhoon Haiyan approached on November 7, 2013. (JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Fisherman repair their outrigger on the shore of Manila bay as Typhoon Haiyan approached on November 7, 2013. (JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Fisherman's outrigger are anchored on the shore of Manila bay as Typhoon Haiyan approached on November 7, 2013. (JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Fisherman's outrigger are anchored on the shore of Manila bay as Typhoon Haiyan approached on November 7, 2013. (JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • This image provided by the U.S. Naval Research Lab shows Typhoon Haiyan taken by the NEXSAT satellite Thursday Nov. 7, 2013 at 2:30 a.m. EDT. (AP Photo/US Naval Research Lab)

 

Follow Mikhaela de Leon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mikhaeladeleon

FOLLOW CANADA