When Paso Robles pilot Larry Hayes first ascended over the devastating aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, he was awestruck.
“I was amazed at the sheer magnitude of the destruction,” Hayes wrote in an email from the Philippines on Friday.
“Flying through the area, I could only imagine the suffering going on at that very moment by so many people.”
Hayes, a helicopter pilot for an Oregon-based company that provides support to U.S. military personnel, is part of relief efforts after the massive storm that ravaged the city of Tacloban on Nov. 8.
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The international community took days gathering momentum to bring food, water and medical supplies to devastated areas. On Thursday, the aircraft carrier USS George Washington arrived with troops, supplies and aircraft to distribute aid. Two more amphibious ships are headed to the region.
Stationed in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines, Hayes first flew north to Tacloban four days after the typhoon to deliver supplies to newly-arrived military personnel helping to coordinate initial U.S. relief work.
Hayes brought in tents, food, water, backup batteries for radios, gasoline for generators and other equipment to U.S. troops at the Tacloban airport.
Seeing the island city’s storm-ravaged neighborhoods from the air was almost too much to bear, said Hayes, 59.
“Flying a helicopter at about 500 to 1,000 feet above ground level I could see huge amounts of debris where a township or community would otherwise be,” he wrote. “Homes that had been leveled by the storm surge, other homes without roofs or windows, toppled trees that had been stripped of almost all branches/ leaves, cars overturned and laying all about, massive amounts of sludge and debris.”
But amid the chaos, a pillar of hope atop a small coastline peak caught his eye on that Nov. 12 mission. He took out his cell phone and took a picture of the mountaintop from his helicopter.
“Once I got closer, I snapped another picture of what was a somewhat surreal view … an intact statue of Jesus with arms outstretched toward the city of Tacloban that had suffered immense devastation from near 200 mph winds and a 30-foot storm surge,” he wrote.
“I am not a deeply religious person … but I felt an overwhelming sense of calm and hoped that the people below could take some small comfort in knowing that their Jesus was still there.”
Hayes took several pictures of the destruction there, each showing miles and miles of splintered homes and structures.
“How this statue survived the storm is beyond me,” he said.