Thursday, November 21, 2013

Typhoon Yolonda/Haiyan Day 1

I can’t even begin to tell you how bad the storm and it’s devastating effects were. Whatever your imagining, it’s worse. Even the stories of survival are laden with tragedy and life altering pain.

A local girl named Doris (a friend of  Suzi Lauti, a friend who was a missionary here before) picked me up from my hotel around 1:00pm after having arrived at the hotel around 1:00am that morning. She wasted no time in getting me to the chapel saying that they did need help.

I was welcomed with open arms by local church members (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and introduced to the thirty refugees who are staying at the chapel.

I saw two men building a framework of small rooms with the church cultural hall in order to house more refugees as they are expecting upwards of 50 to come from the hardest hit island later this week.

I spoke of mangoes and my love of the fruit here. Before I could even lift a finger to help out, I was whisked away to a fruit stand where I tasted several delicious fruits I’d never had before...and of course mangoes. They made sure I had tasted everything and tried to not laugh at my messy, lack of mango-eating skills.

I ended spending quite a bit of money on fruit to share when I got back to the chapel (about $25). As we were cutting into the fruit I was told that the fruit was too expensive to share and that they refugees would be eating bread and juice. I couldn’t believe their kindness.

How could I NOT share? These people had been through so much and been hungry for so long before making their way to the chapel and now they were going to bread and juice while I binged on tropical fruit I was later informed they didn’t eat often because it was too expensive for most of them to eat regularly. How could I NOT share?! And, so there was a feast of fancy fruit. It never would have tasted right had it not been shared. I was so happy when I went back later to snack on another piece only to have found that it had all been devoured. I loved when a sweet boy of seven (I’ll tell you his story in a moment) sheepishly picked one small “seed” portion of the mango (I’m told no one likes to eat the “seed” part because there isn’t much fruit on it and it’s harder to eat). I handed him the other seed portion on the plate and waited for him to finish both of those only to follow up by filling both his hands with big, fat, juicy portions of mangos...he smiled. Something he doesn’t do often I’ve learned.

This seven year old boy survived, somehow, with his grandmother who is paralyzed from the waist down (an old injury I’m told). I believe they lived in an area of the island with slightly higher ground and the chapel they took cover during the storm only filled with water about 4 feet deep (remember the people here are small, most any them no even 5 feet tall, and the women that squeak that line are few). How awful is that to say? That this poor seven year old boy and his paralyzed grandmother ONLY had to fight through hours and hours of winds near 200 miles an hour and 4 feet of water. How they made it out, I don’t know. But I do know that after having survived that scariest event I’m sure he’s ever had to experience, that seven year old boy immediately had an even worse experience than the frightening storm: he witnessed a gun fight. People who had survived the storm, then killed each other in front of him. He hasn’t talked much since. He is very withdrawn and often gets very apathetic and just stares off into space for moments at a time. He has the one of the most gentle spirits and is obviously very sensitive toward other human beings.

At the end of the day yesterday, he spoke a little to the doctor, to everyone’s surprise. He barely said his name and shook his head yes and no as the doctor asked him questions. After his examination, another little boy was obviously trying to get him to play, he put his arm around the seven year old like they were old friends. He engaged in small conversation, meaning he said a few words to the boy and did not pull back from the his touch. I could tell how excited everyone was to see this boy’s improvement. Even if it was small.

(It seems to me the Filipino people are instantly comfortable and old friends with all new people, including me. As I had several people treating me and touching me like we old friends sharing and inside joke the moment we met. I was happy to see this little boy was welcomed as I was.)

There is another family here with a beautiful story. Although, still very sad. The mother had left a few days before to find work in Kuwait, leaving the father and their nine children at home when the storm hit. Yes, nine children. My guess would be that they range from age 13-ish to 6 mos. With these nine children the father somehow made it to the roof of their home as the waters reached over 16 feet deep. That in and of itself is a miracle but the trouble is not over at that point. Remember the winds were nearly 200 miles a hour, enough to blow over houses, trucks and cars...let alone the thousands of bodies of those who didn’t survive. And yet, they all did. I hear they were floated (violently blown is probably a more appropriate description) for three hours in the flood water, including that baby. They then walked until the finally found rescue ships. They waited in line for 2 days with little to know food for their turn to leave the island. There must have been so many miracles one right after the other to aide in the survival of entire family. A family of nine, including one very young baby, who incidentally is the happiest baby on the planet and lights up the whole world when he’s around.

Another young mother, I don’t know much of her story, but I know the blessed part, survived the storm with her one year old daughter. I’m told they were able to hold on to something while on a rooftop through out the storm. She had put a box over the baby’s head to protect her. At one point the baby was so cold she was turned blue. When the storm had finally passed a milk van had crashed nearby. They were able to feed the baby milk to help her survive until they were eventually evacuated.

A much better story than the man who is here, and broken. He lost his two year old in the storm. He still has his new baby with him when the storm was over. When he found others to join, but the baby was already dead in arms.

There are so many stories. These are the ones I heard my first few hours here in the Philippines.

I’ll take just a moment to add a few more details. I was going to go after our little clinic time with doctors last night to meet another group at another chapel near the Mormon temple here that are repacking relief supplies for distribution to get over to the island where the storm was and more even more help is needed there than here.

I was convinced to not go until morning. It’s too dangerous they say. They didn’t me traveling in the dark. They say it’s normally not the safest thing to do, but a prison was destroyed on the island with the storm and over 600 prisoners escaped and have come to Cebu and have been causing trouble here in the city.

The ones that are still on the island have broken out in extreme violence (along with several other that weren’t prisoners but have taken advantage of the typhoon’s massive chaos and destruction. People who managed to live through the typhoon are now being shot, beaten, and raped. I’m not to cross to the island unless I am with a large group. That group is at the temple. Taking their advice and touched by they protection of me, I stayed. I’ll meet up with the group tomorrow to find out details.

I’ll find out more then but I think the plan is to leave for the Ormoc (a hard-hit city on the island province of Leyte, the one I’ve been referring to) on Monday, three days from now with a medical team to treat wounded there. And to find more survivors. Many of the more out-lying areas still haven’t even been accessed yet. Any survivors from those areas of walked for hours or days to get help but mostly, no one knows what’s left of those areas and if those who survived the typhoon have survived the secondary effects of infections, wounds and starvation yet.

To make it worse, the corrupt government is now trying to charge fees and made-up taxes on the bodies and victims of the storm exiting ports and evacuation planes. I know of one Swedish rescue ship who had to change plans from landing in Cebu and fly back to Manila because they were trying to collect money from the Swedish plane and rescue workers for every Filipino that they had rescued. How sick. That in a situation like this you’d rather force payment (a tax that doesn’t actually exist) and delay medical care (the worst and most severe injuries were coming in on stretchers from those ships) and discourage foreign aide by taxation than allow a human to be cared for. The locals that are not in power are clearly outraged by this cursing their governments corruption and the lack of concern being given to those who are being helped by foreign government.

I need to stop now. I’ve been invited to eat. And if I’ve learned anything from my time traveling, and invitation to eat is an invitation of friendship. I could only be so lucky to have these beautiful and giving people to have me as their friend.
God bless.

p.s. I hate to tack this on here but the reality is we’re already using up all the supplies I’ve brought and my savings are rapidly depleting. If you’d like to and can send money for supplies, I have a paypal account set up under the account name of

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