Volunteers on the frontline of relief efforts for Typhoon Bopha survivors

Published: 18 December 2012 14:44 CET

By Necephor Mghendi

A fortnight after Typhoon Bopha stuck the Philippines with devastating consequences, Philippine Red Cross personnel continue to respond to the needs of families affected by the disaster. The number affected has now reached 6.2 million across 34 provinces and the death toll from the worst natural disaster to hit the country this year has surpassed 1,000. A further 800 people are still missing.

Bopha left a trail of destruction during its five-day passage across the archipelago. According to the latest update by disaster authorities, approximately 167,300 houses were damaged, over 65,000 of which were flattened. 900,000 people are still being sheltered in evacuation centres.

The impact of the storm has left many stunned – including Philippine Red Cross volunteers and staff, some of whom were directly affected, but were also among the first responders.

“In my six-year service with the Red Cross I never imagined I would ever witness something like this,” says 35-year old Xylene Berlin, a staff member of the Philippine Red Cross Compostela Valley branch.

Xylene and her team, – two women and six men – sprung into to action as soon as they could safely venture out.

“We left our office at 10am but were only able to reach New Bataan around midnight because fallen trees made road access impossible,” Xylene says. “We had to wait for the police to clear the way using chainsaws.”

Normally the journey only takes a couple of hours, but it was 14 hours before the team finally arrived in New Bataan. They headed straight to the municipal gymnasium where hundreds of families had sought shelter.

“What we saw was like a scene on a battleground. There were scores of people with various injuries, among them a three-year old child and a pregnant woman,” she adds. “Almost everyone was affected, including local government officials.

“We decided to transfer the serious cases, such as spinal injuries, to the provincial hospital in Montevista the same night using our pickup truck because they required immediate medical attention,” Xylene says.  

The team spent 36 hours in New Bataan, working non-stop to provide first aid. They also helped with rescue operations and providing relief to people in evacuation centres.

“Our staff and volunteers have sacrificed a lot, day and night, to deliver humanitarian assistance to people in need, sometimes in very challenging circumstances,” says Gwendolyn Pang, Secretary General of Philippine Red Cross.

Since the disaster struck, Philippine Red Cross has provided food to over 16,000 affected families, as well as immediate relief supplies such as water storage containers, bedding and hygiene kits to more than 4,000 families in affected areas.

The IFRC’s emergency appeal is seeking funding to deliver immediate relief and early recovery assistance to 50,000 people, but results of assessments undertaken by Red Cross teams, will lead to an increased need for international support, and the appeal may be revised at the end of this week.