Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines: People Working Together to Survive in the Disaster Zone


by Sandra Bulling, Ormoc City, Leyte, Philippines

Six days after the deadly super typhoon made landfall in the central Philippines, food, clean water and medicine still is in short supply. With infrastructure – including roads and ports – severely damaged relief aid is just now reaching people in the hardest-hit area. Read this blog by CARE’s Emergency Team Leader David Gazashvili on the logistical challenges of such a massive relief operation.

The news reports really make me cringe, when they show Filipinos as aggressive and that insecurity is the main theme. Yes, there are frequent lootings. Yes, there are stores and shops being stripped bare of all items. But people are so desperate. They have lost everything.

Looting? Shops are closed. There is no water, food or fuel. Shop owners are trying to take care of their own families and are mourning loved ones who died in the disaster. I can understand that opening their shop isn’t at the top of their mind. But looting? People are patiently lining up and sharing the food and water and fuel they are “looting.” And even now, the food and water in the shops is running out – or it’s gone already.

The people here are extremely traumatized. Every person I talk to has a horrible story to tell.

Yesterday we met a woman who gave birth on the doorstep of a church. I spoke to a man who was trapped in his house on the coast, when the storm surge came. The tidal wave was so high, he fled to the second floor of his house. Being upstairs did not protect him either – the wind blew away the roof above him. Policeman, government officials, doctors, nurses … they are all affected by this tragedy; all are struggling to help others, while caring for their own families.

These are just a few examples of the desperation here. I think each of us would resort to pretty drastic measures if the survival of our child was at stake.

At the same time, I encounter friendliness. I see people helping each other. I see smiles and laughter amidst the chaos. Three times a day we have to stop to get new tires or old ones fixed because of the debris. Everyone who has tires tries their best to help us.

Whenever we lose our way amidst the rubble, people try their best to show us around. People help their neighbors who have to go to hospitals. People help others find their loved ones. People are helping each other repair roofs. They provide us with the information we need to plan our assistance.

In Jaro, we slept at an evacuation center and the chief of the disaster committee quickly offered us his two hammocks to sleep in. So, there is another picture there: it is one of compassion.

Filipinos are strong people. They encounter disasters every year, be it typhoons, landslides, earthquakes. This disaster goes beyond our imagination. The people here deserve more than just being called looters – people are strong, and they are doing their best to get back on their feet and help each other with the few supplies that are left in the disaster zone.

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