Edita Tante describes her experiences as a survivor of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
By Linda Unger*
Tacloban, November 19, 2013—By the time Edita and Margarito Tante, an elderly couple from a Tacloban shantytown, fled their one-room home of wood and tin for a taller, more stable building, the rushing storm surge provoked by Typhoon Haiyan was already knee-high and rising fast. Ultimately, it would tower an estimated 15 feet. Edita feared she would drown as the couple pushed back against the floodwaters, seeking safety.
“All the clothes we had in the cabinets and closet washed away,” the diminutive Edita said, while she waited patiently on a line to receive food assistance from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in the Naganaga neighborhood here. Her wiry, asthmatic husband, Margarito, who was not healthy enough to join her for the distribution, had, the morning of the storm, returned to the house through the fast-moving waters, she said, and tried to recover some of the items. Most of them slipped from his grasp, though, and sped away, she said, before he returned to their refuge.
Edita Tante picked up the bright yellow bag that contained enough rice, oil, beans, coffee, and other staples to last her family about a week. Seeing her struggle with the 15-kilo bag, Archelaus Joseph Laudes, an UMCOR volunteer—and a “prophet in training,” he says—offered to carry it for her back to her shanty, and they walked together through the muddy streets, beneath a fine rain.
The little home seemed to shiver as it sat shoulder to shoulder with other vulnerable makeshift houses like it. They all are located on the unpaved incline that rises slightly from the estuary that had wreaked so much havoc in the neighborhood just 11 days earlier.
It was only on arriving there—away from the commotion of the food distribution—that Edita revealed a deeper hurt. While she and Margarito had survived Typhoon Haiyan, a category 5 super storm, four of their grandchildren, ages 3, 4, 7, and 10, had not. Tears filled her eyes as she told how the bodies of three of the children had already been buried in a mass grave, while that of the fourth, the seven-year old, had yet to be recovered.
Laudes, who is a student pastor and is finishing his studies at Union Theological Seminary in Cavite, listened to Tante’s story. After returning the bag full of supplies to shore up her family physically, he offered a prayer of strength and hope. Laudes gave thanks for the strength God had given and continues to give to typhoon survivors like the Tantes, and prayed God would continue to guide and bless them so that they might “rise again” from the destruction and pain inflicted by the storm.
“We also pray,” he said, “for the UMCOR volunteers and for the people who gave their financial resources, so that we might continue to partner with and help these people in all the ways we can . . . And may this calamity show us the real need to be mindful of your creation, Lord, and to take care of it.”
Edita Tante made the sign of the cross and thanked Laudes. She repeated her thankfulness to God and to the international community, organizations such as UMCOR, local communities, and her neighbors who had pitched in to help one another during and since the storm. She also thanked Laudes for visiting with her at her own shanty. “I never expected anyone like you would want to come here,” she said.
Behind the stories of survival of those who lived through Typhoon Haiyan, are stories of strength, courage, and the many details of their daily lives that will need to be put back together again. Your support for International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450, will help advance the recovery process in the Philippines.
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.