Typhoon Haiyan survivors need water, tarpaulins, medications, food

Published: 13 November 2013 23:04 CET

By Johanna Lassy-Mäntyvaara, Finnish Red Cross in Cebu

The scene in the north of Cebu is heart-breaking - collapsed houses, detached roofs, fallen palms, piles of debris driven by the wind. Pieces of corrugated iron hanging from trees tell the tale of the huge destructive power of the typhoon winds and surging water which damaged almost every home in the north of Cebu province.    

Houses built from plank board and timber are now splintered piles of wood, while others constructed from more durable materials may still have walls standing, but nothing remains untouched. The people of the Philippines are no strangers to storms: this year alone, almost 30 typhoons have crossed the islands. However, Haiyan brought devastation never witnessed here before.

Rovilyne Rosell’s family, which lives in the village of Daang Bantayan at the northern tip of Cebu, was evacuated to the nearby town hall after the authorities issued a warning on the extent of typhoon Haiyan’s imminent destruction. On the way there, a piece of sheet metal thrown by the storm hit her brother. Rovilyne carried him to safety.

“Thank God we are all right, it’s a miracle,” says 34-year-old Rovilyne. Pieces of sheet metal, broken kitchenware, wet clothes and other family belongings torn from their home are strewn among the mud and fallen trees. Among the fragments of the house you can see a big Winnie the Pooh, a memento of Rovilyne’s student years. She now works as a teacher in a local school, which was also hit by the typhoon.

“All the classroom equipment flew out of the windows,” Rovilyne says. She smiles, but her eyes betray her grief and worry. “I have no idea where my pupils are, or when we can open the school again.”

The weather forecast promises rain, and the men of the family of ten are putting up a roof from pieces of sheet metal, timber and other materials they can get their hands on. The family spent the night after the typhoon in an evacuation centre, but have since slept crammed in the part of the house still covered by a roof.

In Daang Bantayan village, people receive tarpaulins, water and food supplies donated by companies, charities and the local government. A Philippine Red Cross evaluation team, which has already delivered water and food to hospitals and evacuation centres, will send water and food aid this week.

Mayor Gilbert Arabis is coordinating aid in the Daang Bantayan town house, one of 30 evacuation centres in the area. He said: “9,000 people were evacuated in this area, but fewer than ten people were killed.”

This brings only momentary relief to Arabis. He is worried whether people have time to protect their houses before the next heavy rains set in.

The mayor has not had a good night’s sleep since the super typhoon struck: besides collapsed houses, he has to worry about the distribution of aid and the possibility of diseases.

Diarrhoea and respiratory infections spread quickly in makeshift houses where there is a shortage of clean water.

“So far, people have remained calm, and I’m trying to convince them that there is enough aid for everyone. We need water, tarpaulins, medication, food,” Arabis said. 

Generators are also essential to bring water supply systems back to operation. There are dark clouds looming above the town hall and soon it will be raining heavily.

Some people queuing for tarpaulins seek shelter in the town hall, but many remain in the queue. These people are used to getting wet.