Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan receive food packages from the United Methodist Committee on Relief during a distribution in Tacloban, Philippines. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
By Linda Unger*
Tacloban, November 19, 2013—The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) delivered food packages today to waiting residents of Barangay Naganaga, a struggling and impoverished community in Tacloban, Philippines, that was hard hit by wind, intense rain, and an estimated 15-foot storm surge during Typhoon Haiyan on November 8.
At least 800 of the bright yellow bags of rice, oil, beans, and other staples were handed out to residents who had survived the storm by grit and grace, and who waited for the food packages in muddy lines. “Thank you for helping us,” one survivor after another called to UMCOR staff and volunteers as they struggled under the more welcome burden of the 33 pound bags.
The UMCOR convoy of three vehicles had departed from Dasmariñas on Sunday with three staff, 10 volunteers, and four drivers. After what turned out to be a 36-hour drive from Cavite Province in the north, where the UMCOR Philippines office is located, to Leyte Province in the country’s midsection, the convoy reached the devastated city early Tuesday afternoon.
Along the way, the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan became increasingly apparent. Groves of palm trees stood limp like closed but unsecured umbrellas; power poles and lines lay on their backs as if shoved; cement walls of buildings were blown up in parts, leaving gaping holes; while modest homes of thatch or wood lay shifted on their stilts or flattened.
Everywhere, hand-lettered signs revealed an unfolding story of destruction, need, and hope: “No Food & Water; We Can Survive But of You”; “Merry Xmas Go Leyte Survive”; “Dead Bodies for Pick Up”; “TINDOG TACLOBANAON” [in the local Visayan dialect this means: “Stand Up People of Tacloban”].
Determined to deliver the still-desperately needed food supplies before the city’s 6:00 pm curfew, UMCOR staff quickly met with local officials and personnel from the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) in the interior of a damaged sports complex and at city hall to learn which communities were in greatest need. The city supplied a social worker and a peer counselor to accompany the UMCOR distribution.
Ciony Ayo-Eduarte, head of mission of UMCOR Philippines, and the Rev. Jack Amick, UMCOR assistant general secretary for International Disaster Response, then led the convoy to Baranggay (or neighborhood) Naganaga, where food assistance had only begun to trickle in the day before, 10 days after the typhoon.
Baranggay Chairman Nikki Leaño, a locally elected leader of this neighborhood, said it was coastal communities like this one in Tacloban that were most affected by the category 5 typhoon, a super storm on the order of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in the United States. “When the storm surge rose up, we were a spillway, and the water poured through our streets from other communities,” he said.
He estimated that about 100 of his neighbors in this small community of about 1,200 families died in the storm, and said Naganaga was among the Tacloban baranggays with the highest fatalities. Leaño had sent his own family, including three children ages 6, 9, and 12, to Manila ahead of the storm for their safety. He and his brother stayed back with their neighbors.
“We thought it was the end of the world,” said one of those neighbors, Erlinda Andal, 30, as she waited for the contrastingly sunny-yellow food packages. She, her husband, and their four children ages 7, 8, 9, and 12, had climbed to the roof of their modest home for safety as the storm surge rose. “The water kept going up and up,” she said. “It was up to our chests.”
Andal, a manicurist, said she and her husband, a carpenter, were thankful for the assistance. “It will be a very big help for our family,” she said.
Another neighbor, Maria Theresa Peñafiel, 45, called the storm “horrifying.”
She said that although her home is old, she was trying to make some last-minute repairs to protect it from the storm. When Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, hit, she said, no one expected what she called a “tidal wave.” She was referring to the surge that, along with phenomenally high winds, knocked down power lines, crumpled red steel roofs as if they were Christmas tinfoil, and picked up and tossed heavy objects like boats, cars, trucks, and even a bus from one place to another.
Peñafiel, a single mother of three grown children, climbed with them and three grandchildren to the roof of their home for safety. She said the adults hung onto the roof with one hand and to a child with the other for at least an hour. “We wanted to survive,” said Peñafiel, who works two jobs, as baranggay treasurer and with an express mailing service.
So many days later, she said, she still does not sleep well. Like those of her neighbors who are able to do so, she has returned to her damaged home, set up tarps, and now lives in the more-or-less habitable parts. She said she is afraid of burglars who have been on the prowl for vulnerable homes to loot. But, she said, she was “overwhelmed” by the assistance UMCOR brought. “We’re very glad you came,” she said. “This will be a very big help.”
UMCOR will carry out a second food distribution tomorrow, Wednesday, just outside of Tacloban, where small and vulnerable communities have received little attention.
These distributions help meet immediate needs, but recovery from the super typhoon will be long—as anyone who lived through disasters like Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy can attest. Your support for International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450, will help meet the needs of survivors long after Typhoon Haiyan has slipped from the headlines. Please give now.
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.