Alexander Hailar helps a truck carrying relief supplies for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to clear low-hanging power lines en route to a food distribution in Tacloban, Philippines by the agency for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
By Linda Unger*
Dagami, November 20, 2013—Neighbors from six communities in the interior town of Dagami, the Philippines, lined up this afternoon to receive emergency food packages brought by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
It was the first substantial package of food staples any of the communities, or baranggays, had seen since Typhoon Haiyan, a category 5 super storm known locally as Yolanda, roared through the central Philippines on November 8. The package contains a 10-kilo bag of rice, coffee, cooking oil, beans and other basic food items.
This was UMCOR’s second food distribution in two days, part of a truckload of 1,500 food packages that UMCOR staff and volunteers assembled in Manila, the capital, and drove over the course of 36 hours to Haiyan-impacted communities in Leyte Province.
Until now, some of the Dagami communities had received small packages from local television foundations, noted Orville Berino, an official with the Department of Social Welfare and Development of the Filipino government and a resident of the town. Berino accompanied the UMCOR delivery.
Dagami is located about 33 kilometers [20.5 miles] from Tacloban City, which suffered severe damage and destruction from the typhoon. So far, most humanitarian assistance in the area has focused on Tacloban and other coastal towns that bore the brunt of Haiyan’s rage. UMCOR’s food distribution yesterday was in Tacloban.
Residents eagerly lined up at four different spots in Dagami, which were designated by neighborhood officials who helped UMCOR to organize the communities for the food distribution. Even before many of the residents received their packages, relief shown on their faces, and their thanks echoed along the lines.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” said Lucia Millona, a small, slight woman who is the only support for her small child. “Our house was destroyed and we have no clothes,” she said. “This is the first help we’ve received.”
Although Dagami turns away from the coast, residents still suffered typhoon winds and flooding from overflowing rivers. Livelihoods were destroyed as the storm ruined crops, particularly rice, coconuts, and bananas. Berino said any coconut trees left standing will not likely bear fruit again for two to three years because of the battering the trees took, and new plantings will take five years, he said.
John Harvey, 19, is from a family of rice farmers. He said the family had harvested some of their crop before the storm, but had had no way to protect it. “The water came up, and the current took it all away,” Harvey said, as he balanced the bright yellow UMCOR food package on his motorbike. Also lost in the storm were the family’s water buffalo that they used for plowing.
Harvey’s straight, black hair was tied in a knot at the top of his head in a stylish and, in better times, whimsical way, but his furtive dark eyes clearly were still filled with images of the storm. “The wind was very strong,” he said. “Everything was shaking and shattering—we thought it was an earthquake.”
When the winds died down momentarily, the family fled from the house, thinking they would be safer outdoors, but the typhoon winds quickly returned, and they were left clinging to the roadside guardrails for their very lives. All of them survived.
Katrina Anguren lives in Dagami with her parents, brother, and elderly grandmother. She worked in a local pharmacy, but it was destroyed in the storm.
“We were very scared because the wind was so strong, with matching rain,” she said. “We watched as the [galvanized iron] roofs of some of the houses flew across the street.”
The family decided to stay put, afraid they might be struck by the heavy roofs if they left. They needed also to protect the grandmother, who can neither walk nor see. This was their best option, Anguren said, even as the floodwaters rose and the winds tore the second story off of their house. In the fields her brother works, she said, “There is so much broken glass.”
Nevertheless, she said, “While we live we will not lose hope.” She expressed the family’s thanks for the UMCOR food package that will provide them sustenance for about a week.
The Rev. Jack Amick, assistant general secretary for International Disaster Response, who is in the Philippines to accompany the relief effort of UMCOR’s local office here, remarked, “This distribution is a link in the chain that begins with the generosity of our UMCOR supporters. It’s the whole chain that is making a difference in the lives of the people of Dagami and elsewhere in the central Philippines as they work through these first days and weeks after this devastating disaster.”
Thank you for your gifts. They will continue to be needed as UMCOR, together with our local partners, develops a strategy of long-term recovery from Typhoon Haiyan. Please give generously to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance 982450.
*Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.