Philippines typhoon rips bodies from graves

Philippines typhoon rips bodies from graves

HERNANI, Philippines - Skulls lie on tombstones and a hand reaches out from a grave at a cemetery in the eastern Philippines, after a typhoon so powerful it pulled the dead from the earth.

Shell-shocked survivors speak of how there was nowhere to hide when the storm brought the ocean surging ashore, sweeping through a school where children and the elderly cowered.

Typhoon Haiyan killed at least 75 people in the small rural town of Hernani. Another 45 are missing.

And like something from a nightmare, the storm surge was so powerful it washed bodies from their graves as it swept over the local cemetery.

Those who survived the onslaught were horrified to discover the graveyard in ruins.

"It was a hair-raising sight. Some of the dead were sticking halfway out of their tombs. Others were strewn across the street," said Claire Gregorio, an aid worker from the nearby Catholic diocese of Borongan.

"The water came in and just swept everything away," said Gregorio, one of the first aid responders to reach Hernani, pointing to the ocean about 700 metres (yards) away and hidden by a strip of now-dead mangrove forest.

On the day an AFP team visited, the Catholic cemetery in this deeply religious country was a jumble of upturned and broken concrete and marble tombs, half-buried by the fine, crushed coral that came in with the water.

A calcified hand stuck out of one broken grave, several skulls lay on top of tombs and a thighbone sat on the ground.

Romeo Vazquez, 45, recalls how the waters rose rapidly around 2am on November 8 and did not retreat for five terrifying hours.

"These fields were like a sea at the time," he said.

"There were houses and boats afloat as well as people, both the dead and those still alive."

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