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Amid inclement weather, Pope arrives in Leyte for Yolanda, quake survivors


(Updated 10:31 a.m.) TACLOBAN CITY — Finally, the long wait is over.

Pope Francis arrived in Tacloban City to a warm welcome from the faithful who have been waiting for days for his arrival amid rain and inclement weather due to Tropical Storm Amang (Mekkhala).

A sea of people wearing yellow raincoats burst in cheers as the Philippine Airlines plane bearing the Pope and his party touched down at the the Daniel Romualdez International Airport at 8:47 a.m. even as the province of Leyte, along with six other areas in the country, are under Storm Signal 2 as of early Saturday morning.

As soon as he got off the plane, the Holy Father was welcomed by Palo Archbishop John Du, Leyte Governor Dominic Petilla, Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, Palo Mayor Remedios Petilla and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. 

The Pope then boarded the Kia Popemobile, and moments later, he donned a yellow raincoat during the motorcade to shield him from the rain. 
 
As the Popemobile passed by the crowd, chants of "Viva il Papa, Papa Francesco!" were heard.

GMA News' Kara David, who was on the plane with the Pope, reported that the flight from Manila to Tacloban was 'rough and bumpy.'

"Talagang the whole flight, sobrang turbulent, very, very turbulent, napaka-bumpy," she said. "Medyo nakakahilo ng kaunti dahil patalbog-talbog yung eroplano." 
 
Pope's itinerary

The Pope is in the province to start his day-long visit to survivors of recent deadly calamities in the country, especially Typhoon Yolanda and the Bohol earthquake in the Visayas.

He will celebrate a Mass open to the public and the readings from scriptures, Mass songs, and prayers will be multiligual, using English, Latin, Filipino, Binisaya, Cebuano, Hiligaynon languages.

Thousands of pilgrims in the area have been waiting for the Pope since Friday afternoon, for a chance to get just a glimpse of him.

After the Mass, he will then travel in an open vehicle to the Archbishop's Residence in Palo town, where he will have a private lunch with around 30 selected survivors of super Typhoon Yolanda and the magnitude-7.2 earthquake in Visayas.

Of the 30 survivors, 15 are from Leyte, and five each from Eastern Samar, Calbayog, and Tagbilaran.

Leyte province, particularly Tacloban and Palo cities, was among the areas badly hit when Yolanda lashed Central Visayas in November 2013, with millions left homeless and desperate.

On the other hand, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck the Visayas, particularly in Bohol, on October 15, 2013, leaving 222 dead and many historical churches destroyed.

After lunch, the Pope will then bless the Pope Francis Center for the Poor near the Archbishop's residence.

At the center, he will interact with orphans, elderly, and some people with disabilities.

The facility, which was constructed on June 2014 and cost P30 million, has chapel, a clinic, orphanage, and home for the elderly.

After the visit, the Pope will then proceed to the Palo Cathedral, where he will meet with priests, religious men and women, seminarians and survivors' families.

Before leaving the vicinity, the Pope will say a prayer and light a candle at the mass grave at the back of the cathedral.

After the activities, he will then return to the airport in an open vehicle.

Security

Some 8,000 police officers will protect Pope Francis during his visit in Tacloban City and Palo in Leyte province.

Police Chief Superintendent Cedrick Train, Police Regional Office 8 deputy for administration, said 5,000 cops will be assigned in the motorcade, 2,000 in the Mass at the Daniel Romualdez Airport; 500 at the Palo Cathedral; 300 at the Pope Francis Center; and 200 at various checkpoints.

A no-fly zone was also imposed an hour before the Papal plane took off and an hour after it lands.

No vehicles are also allowed at the route of Pope Francis during his stay in the province.

Earlier, Armed Forces chief of staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said Pope Francis' visit would be the "biggest security nightmare" the military would face this year.

The Pope's main purpose for visiting the Philippines is to be with the survivors of the typhoon that killed thousands in November 2013.

The Pope earlier arrived in Manila on Thursday afternoon, after a visit in Sri Lanka. — with Danessa O. Rivera/LBG/RSJ, GMA News