Haiyan came, conquered and left the country torn and devastated. More than the usual…
Tagged as the biggest and strongest cyclone to have landed on the planet, this cathastrophe visited via the regular storm path: Philippines. Locally called Yolanda, the super typhoon wrecked havoc on the Visayas region, particularly in the island of Leyte, 573 kilometers, south of Manila. The nightmarish storm hit the ground on the dawn of November 8, well on to the next day and did rampage for the next 48 hours. Official tally of casualties as of today is 1,841, eighty percent of which are from the Leyte-Samar area. 6, 498 villages have been affected, across nine (9) regions of the country. Disaster officers, however, estimate 10,000 people injured and missing; possibly dead. Total number of persons displaced by the calamity – 600,000.
We are at the tail end of the rainy season here. Normally, we experience typhoons right after the All Soul’s Day. Thus, a storm on the 3rd or 4th of November is considered ordinary or even expected, in these parts. But this one came a bit late, on the edge of the 7th – with trees swaying to the tune of the howling winds – slamming right into the towns and cities of Central Philippines. Experts hailed Haiyan as stronger and faster than Hurricane Katrina and Super typhoon Sandy combined. Indeed, Yolanda’s wind strength, coverage and speed is beyond what we, Filipinos commonly encounter. Or, go through. Or, escape from… No country or people is prepared enough for a natural disaster of this magnitude and proportion.
The storm pounded Tacloban City, Leyte province’s capital. Buildings were destroyed, houses flooded then eroded, and, the whole city was inundated by the storm surges from the nearby bay. In its wake – trees, people, animals, vehicles and huge amount of debris. Whole communities were flattened, brought to the ground, laid to waste… In the adjacent towns and in the remote villages, dwellings made from light materials (though reinforced) did not stand a chance. This extra-strength typhoon simply swept everything and every one in its path. Power lines were cut off, phone lines were down and food and water supplies vanished, just like that. Parents looking for their children could not find their way, children looking for their parents got lost and in the dark and pummeling rain, families were separated. Some, forever.
If we try to wrap our heads around the idea of surviving a violent storm in a big group of islands, like the Philippines, we would have a hard time. This archipelagic country is host to 19 typhoons a year, at least three (3) of them are called super. It depends on where the storm would pass, hit (landfall) and exit, the length of its stay and the strength of the dances nature would do. It is a little like a lottery, with misfortune as the prize (no pun intended). Whenever a typhoon is expected in an area, foundations of houses there are strengthened, roofs are repaired and residents near bodies of water are evacuated. As the moving wind rants, raves and stomps – we run, flee and scamper to dry, higher and safer grounds. Filipinos are used to it, familiar and somehow, adjusted. Or, so we claim… One or two volcanic eruptions annually, a landslide here, three earthquakes there and periodic flooding. But we suffer each time; whether our immediate zone is directly affected or not. Regardless if the disaster, hit our front door, right into our living room or, it happened some 600 kilometers away.
We feel small, helpless, insignificant – just like the rest of the world watching the media coverage from CNN via the cable. We would like to help the victims in our own way, concretely — some shelter, jackets, hot water or even just coffee or soup. At one time or another, we have been there: on the side needing aid, assistance, comfort. Or, at the very least, seeking a glimmer of hope. From the screens of our television sets, the happenings are too distant, yet too familiar and too surreal. Mothers crying softly, fathers staring dumbfounded and confused children wailing, there’s just too many of them. In their faces – fear, pain and sorrow – all too deep, too recent for words. The hourly news flash updates on impassable roads, looting of supermarkets, warehouses and malls and, relief trucks stalled on the way to the victims. Most devastated communities are in the coastal areas or far-flung villages; rescue and relief operations are logistically long and difficult.
Three days after the storm’s landfall, it was found out that the nearby islands of Samar were also badly damaged. Historically, Samar is one of the country’s poorest provinces. It turned out, casualties in the Eastern and Western Samar was close to 400 and more than 2,000 villages in the area, have been badly affected by the storm. On the other hand, Bohol province, where a strong quake occurred less that a month earlier, was also hit by a series of gigantic storm surges during Haiyan’s rampage. Likewise for Cebu, where death toll from the super typhoon reached 63.
War has its signature image, that pair of haunting eyes asking the whereabouts of its loved ones. We keep on seeing it in the last five (5) days – on the TV screens, on social media’s most recently uploaded pics and videos and, on our PC monitors. There is no war, no. Yet, the manifestations are too telling – dead bodies, survivors foraging through the wreckage, in the midst of cadavers, and hungry, desperate people fighting over food, water and blankets.
We change the channel, shift to another platform (to get more of the same) before dialing the number for the possibility of donating. It’s not enough, we know inside that that little help we are extending will hardly be enough. But we hope and pray to high heavens that it will succor the tragedy’s victims somehow. Somehow… We, too, are desperate. We, too need assurance that things will get better. After all, it’s not everyday that people loot supermarkets and dead peoples’ homes. It’s not everyday that people throw decency to the wind and elbow the next fellow for a can of sardines. No. But deep inside, we ask ourselves, “Had we been in that same situation, would we have done the same?” Surprisingly, we are not surprised by the answer: Yes.
*Interested and concerned parties may donate through the hotlines and websites of the UN Food Programme, the Red Cross and CNN. Private efforts and private groups soliciting support and donations for the typhoon victims are encouraged and welcome. If you are sending over items, easy-open canned goods are preferred, also bottled water, rice, blankets and jackets.
Most victims are in the evacuation areas or in the streets thus, they have nothing to cook with just yet. For now, edible and usable items that could be packed and handled easily are preferred and would also make it easy for the volunteers. Most relief efforts are using big trucks, most roads are still hard to negotiate or dangerous and the airports in the typhoon-hit areas as well as the electricity and phone connections are all down.
We all want to help, but let us also be patient. Donation of helicopters, aircrafts and seacrafts from really wealthy bloggers and their families are most welcome. Just kidding. 😉 Actually, am half serious. It seems the rescue and relief operations will speed up if the government had more of them as most victims are in islands, islets and isolated areas. Finding and burying the dead is also on top of the agenda. It’s almost like a war, over here. The atmosphere is such that most of us are down because of this disaster.
Let us all hold hands, this is a catastrophe that visited not just us, Filipinos, but all of mankind. You are with us, we know … Thank you. 🙂
Kind words and warm thoughts will be accepted, too. The blogger here is fine, thanks to dear bloggers who came over to ask and extended concerns. Hugs to all. 🙂 🙂