Philippines: Picking up the pieces after Typhoon Haiyan

20 November, 2013
20 Nov 2013, Tanauan, Philippines. Seventy-four year-old Marina Villegas Dorego. Credit: OCHA/M. Cochrane
20 Nov 2013, Tanauan, Philippines. Seventy-four year-old Marina Villegas Dorego. Credit: OCHA/M. Cochrane

When Typhoon Haiyan hit Leyte’s eastern coast, the town of Tanauan took much of its force. The massive storm tore through the modest homes and stores that line Tanauan’s streets, and tore the roof off its imposing cathedral. Almost every single person in the town of 50,000 was affected by the storm. Many people – perhaps most – have lost their homes.

Seventy four year old Marina Villegas Doregowas at home when Typhoon Haiyan hit Tanauan, bringing with it incredible winds and a storm surge. “When Yolanda (the local name for Haiyan) came, I was surprised,” she said. “I climbed up the aparador [wooden cabinet] and clung on.”

The water was soon up to her neck. Marina clung to the piece of furniture for two hours, until the water finally began to subside. “If it reached three hours, I would have fallen down.”

When the water finally flowed away, Marina surveyed the damage. San Miguel - her barangay or neighbourhood – was destroyed. Her home had collapsed, taking with it the small store where she used to sell sweets and cakes.

“Our things were all gone because of the water,” she said. “All our appliances. Everything was carried away by the [receding] water.”

Food aid from local authorities arrived within two days she says and soon more assistance began to pour in.

The Tanauan town hall

An inter-agency assessment team, featuring representatives from OCHA, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Water and Sanitation Cluster, visited Tanauan as part of an effort to assess the impact of communities affected by Haiyan, and to understand their needs.

Their first port of call was Tanauan town hall, which had been turned into a medical clinic. On the ground floor the international NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) had set up a primary healthcare clinic. They are providing basic health assistance to people in the community who have not had access to doctors and medicines since the storm.

“We are seeing some cases of diarrhea, respiratory tract infections and skin infections,” said MSF’s Caroline Seguin. “We will be here for as long as we are needed.”

Upstairs the emergency medical organization RescueNet and the Japanese agency the Tokushukai Medical Aid Team, are treating more serious cases. Australian paramedic Mark Cockburn says that they are still treating injuries from the storm, injuries that become infected and injuries incurred by people walking over debris.

“We were treating about 75-80 cases per day, but yesterday that dropped to 37 and today there have been even less,” he said.

I want to rebuild my home

Back in barangay San Miguel, Marina sits with an OCHA aid worker to talk about the impact of the storm on her community. She says that the food they have received, and the medical support that has been available, have played an important role in helping her community cope with the fallout of the storm.

But when asked what she needs, she is very clear. “I want shelter; I want to rebuild my house.” People want to rebuild their homes, she says, and they want to go back to work.

“When the storm hit, I prayed that no more calamities would come. I prayed for my children who are living away from me. I prayed that they would be safe.

“[Now] I pray that I can rebuild my live. I don’t want to live with my neighbours, I want to be home.”

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