11/12/2013 04:20 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

"I Learned the Smell of Death"

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.

Typhoon Haiyan