Pope Francis cuts short visit to typhoon-hit Tacloban

  • Published
Media caption,

The Pope said that he was "truly saddened" to have to go

A storm has forced Pope Francis to cut short his visit to the Philippine city of Tacloban, which was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan just over a year ago.

Amid strong winds and pouring rain, he celebrated Mass with thousands of worshippers earlier on Saturday.

He was due to go on to meet survivors of the typhoon but had to leave early because of worsening conditions.

An audience at a cathedral gave an anguished gasp when he told them he would have to go.

Media caption,

A plane carrying Filipino government officials overshot the runway at Tacloban airport

The typhoon, which remains the strongest storm ever recorded on land, created a 7m (23ft) high storm surge, destroying practically everything in its path when it swept ashore on 8 November 2013.

Around 90% of the city of Tacloban in Leyte province was destroyed and more than 14.5 million people were affected in six regions and 44 provinces. About one million people remain homeless.

The Pope said as soon as he saw the catastrophe caused by the typhoon, he had decided to go to the Philippines.

He is visiting the Philippines, where there are 80 million Catholics, as part of a six-day tour of Asia.

Tropical storm

Pope Francis was due to have lunch with survivors of Typhoon Haiyan later on Saturday but he left Tacloban four hours early because of the approaching storm and returned to Manila.

He apologised to the crowds gathered at the main cathedral in Leyte province and said: "I am sad about this, truly saddened, because I had something prepared especially for you."

Image source, AP
Image caption,
The weather did nothing to deter the crowds attending Mass

The Pope said his pilots had told him that the weather was going to get worse. "We barely have time to get to the aeroplane," he said.

Tropical Storm Mekkhala, with winds of up to 130 km/h (80 mph), forced the suspension of ferry services to Leyte and stranded thousands of travellers, according to the Associated Press news agency.

One woman was killed after the mass, when scaffolding near the stage collapsed, local media report.

The storm was forecast to hit the shore of nearby Samar Island later on Saturday.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
People prayed for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan during the Mass
Image source, AFP/Getty
Image caption,
Tropical Storm Mekkhala forced Pope Francis to cut short his visit after the Mass

During the Mass in Spanish, with a translation into English, the Pope spoke of the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan on people in Tacloban.

He told the faithful that "so many of you in Tacloban have lost everything. I don't know what to say - but the Lord does… He underwent so many of the trials that you do".

There was silence as the many thousands here in the deeply Catholic Philippines bowed their heads in prayer, the only noise the rain splashing onto the muddy ground beneath, reports the BBC's Caroline Wyatt.

At the scene: Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, BBC News, Tacloban

The pouring rain did not discourage hundreds of thousands of people from coming out to see Pope Francis.

Many began assembling at the airport before sunset on Friday, standing patiently in the open all night in their clear plastic ponchos. No umbrellas are being allowed.

One family I met had driven 18 hours from Davao City in Mindanao. They didn't have any tickets for the mass, but were unconcerned, only hoping to take a small part in what is the biggest event this city has ever seen.

Tacloban is still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 7,000 people here just over a year ago. Pope Francis will meet families of some of the victims. One is Dr Clara Rosa. She lost 11 members of her family.

I asked her what it meant to her to meet Pope Francis today. "It is like having a friend visit you while you are grieving" she said, struggling to hold back tears. "You are happy your friend has come, but it is for a very sad reason."

A national holiday has been declared in the capital for the duration of the Pope's visit.

Security is very tight, with tens of thousands of soldiers and police deployed, after failed attempts to kill two previous popes in the Philippines.

The centrepiece of Pope Francis' visit will be an open-air Mass in Manila on Sunday, which is expected to attract millions.