Blog: Rebuilding after Haiyan - a survivor's story

Publicado: 25 febrero 2014 10:52 CET

By Patrick Fuller, IFRC

I met Pet Lacandazo one morning by chance. I had accompanied the Philippine Red Cross cash transfer team who were registering people in the San Joachim Barangay (village), one of the areas that had been hit badly by Typhoon Haiyan when it made landfall along the coastline of Eastern Leyte in the Visayas region of the Philippines.

Pretty much everyone in the community had been a victim. Most had lost their homes and many had seen members of their family swept to their death in the tsunami-like tidal surge that came in with the typhoon. Everyone met the criteria to receive emergency cash support.

The local Barangay secretary asked me if I wanted to meet 55-year-old Pet who had lost 21 members of his immediate and extended family. I hesitated, not wanting to intrude on the grief of someone who had experienced such personal tragedy; but here was someone whose story I knew would validate just how important the Red Cross cash programme was to people whose lives had been destroyed by this disaster.

As we shook hands, Pet’s bloodshot eyes revealed a haunted man. He quietly led me to the nearby churchyard to a mass grave where victims of the typhoon had been laid to rest. A simple wooden sign with a column of names in black pen marked the spot where his wife, children and grandchildren lay. We stood in silence; words were meaningless in the face of such loss.

He quietly led me to a nearby church to a mass grave where victims of the typhoon had been laid to rest.

Home now for Pet, his one son and four surviving grandchildren is a ramshackle one room structure on the edge of the highway made from bits of salvaged timber and tarpaulin. Nearby, the foundations, a door frame and a broken wall are all that remain of his former house, destroyed by the barrage of water that came from the sea.

Fifteen members of Pet’s family were in the house when the sea burst in and carried everyone up to the ceiling. The last thing Pet recalls is when a huge tree collapsed on the house, crushing the family inside. He was struck on the head. Barely conscious, he lost his grip on his pregnant daughter’s hand as he struggled to pull himself up through the debris in the torrent of water. Sometime later he woke up in a nearby mango tree only to see his dead son and daughter hanging nearby in another tree. He began a desperate search for the rest of the family and found the bodies of his three other daughters almost one kilometre away.

“It was so hard when I was pulling their bodies out of the debris,” Pet recalled, “I was crying and no-one could help me. Everyone here was in the same situation. I was weak with hunger and just had to leave their bodies by the road.”

Now Pet takes each day at a time. His main concern is the welfare of his surviving grandchildren. “I often hear one of my grandchildren saying he wishes this were all a dream. He thinks that by saying it often enough will make everything go away and he would see his siblings and mother again.”

Before the typhoon Pet made a good living from his four fish pens along a nearby inlet where he raised milkfish and tilapia, but he lost everything to the typhoon. The 5,000 Peso grant that Pet receives from the Philippine Red Cross will go some way towards helping him to get back on his feet.

Ever resourceful, he has started a scrap metal business, hoping to profit from the twisted metal roof sheets and other debris that litter the surrounding area. While, some of his grant money will be used to kickstart the business, the rest will go towards making a start on building a small house for his grandchildren.

It was hard to imagine the emotional burden that Pet must carry each day and as we parted company, he shared some of his feelings.

“My heart breaks when I look at these children,” he said. “Most of the time I just give them what they want because I pity them. It pains me to think that they no longer have parents to guide them as they grow up.”