Pope heads south to comfort Typhoon Haiyan survivors

Fri Jan 16, 2015 6:02pm EST
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By Philip Pullella and Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA (Reuters) - Pope Francis travels to the central Philippines city of Tacloban on Saturday to pray for the dead and comfort the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, the country's worst natural disaster, which killed 6,300 people a little over a year ago.

The Pope's day trip to the coastal city 650 km (400 miles) southeast of Manila gives him another opportunity to speak about climate change ahead of a major document on the environment he is due to issue in June.

Francis will celebrate Mass at the airport and then see for himself the devastation wreaked by Haiyan, the strongest storm to make landfall on record, when he goes to the nearby town of Palo to have lunch with survivors.

Speaking at the presidential palace on Friday, the Pope admired the "heroic strength, faith and resilience" shown by the country as well as the solidarity people demonstrated after the typhoon.

Haiyan, which packed 250 kph (155 mph) winds and created a seven-meter high storm surge, wiped out or damaged practically everything in its path as it swept ashore on Nov. 8, 2013.

The storm destroyed around 90 percent of the city of Tacloban in Leyte province. More than 14.5 million people were affected in six regions and 44 provinces. About one million people remain homeless.

The government estimates it needs almost 170 billion pesos ($3.8 billion) to rebuild the affected communities, including the construction of a four-meter high dike along the 27-km coastline to prevent a repeat of the disaster.

Nearly 3,000 victims are buried in the city's almost half-hectare mass grave site. Hundreds are still unaccounted for.   Continued...

Pope Francis waves to well-wishers aboard the popemobile near the Manila Cathedral January 16, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro