What I've Learned from Typhoon Survivors

April 23, 2014 • Philippines
What I Learned from Typhoon Survivors

After Typhoon Haiyan, many people in the Philippines were left with nothing. Those who do have possessions left or who have received supplies from distributions are sharing despite their circumstances.

Lucia Lam was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. She has worked with many Filipinos in both places but never imagined she would move to the Philippines until Typhoon Haiyan. She is working with Samaritan’s Purse as a general program manager.

In February, I spent two mornings visiting several Samaritan’s Purse food distribution sites in Palo and Tanauan, municipalities hit hard by Typhoon Haiyan. Until February 28, our food teams distributed bags of rice to an average of four sites every day, in partnership with the World Food Programme.

When we arrived at each site in the morning, there were already people waiting under the scorching sun. I had a chance to interview several people to listen to their experiences during and after the storm.

What I Learned from Typhoon Survivors

Days after the storm, families anxiously wait for food and hygiene supplies.

Many people thought they were going to die and that it was the end of the world.

“Our windows were exploding and crashing,” said Ann, a nurse who said her plan now is to help people stabilize after the storm. “We didn’t expect such sudden flooding. Water was at chest level inside the house, and outside, it was at waist level.”

Nobody in her house died, but her aunt and cousins did not survive because they lived in a village closer to the sea. She also found a dead baby by her house.

“I saw a premature baby flowing in the water,” she said. “I picked it up, thinking it was a toy from the neighbor.”

I then talked to Esmar. I felt as if I were watching a movie as he described images of walls, roofs, and other objects collapsing and flying around everywhere.

What I Learned from Typhoon Survivors

Members of Holy Faith BCP Church volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse to provide food to community members.

“I saw motorcycles flying over power lines and then broke apart,” he said. “It was a nightmare. We’re praying during the strong wind for God to please stop this typhoon and save us from this calamity.”

What I Learned from Typhoon Survivors

Many people didn’t have food for days after the storm.

Through these interviews, two common themes that emerged were a sense of community and gratefulness.

“At 3 a.m., a family of 10 children came to our door to ask for help,” Esmar said.

Their house, like many other sturdier houses, was swarmed with people coming to seek shelter.

Help After the Storm

Roads were blocked by fallen trees and debris, so it was impossible to get anywhere by car in the aftermath of the typhoon. Injured and sick people walked to the hospital. Helicopters dropped relief supplies.  Most vegetation and animals died. Water and electricity was out.

In the municipality of Barangay Gacao, the council reported that the biggest problem was a source of food because rice plantations were washed out. After the storm, people asked for food in nearby towns, but those towns couldn’t provide any because they were also damaged.

Unable to find anything to eat, some resorted to robbing others. Before relief arrived, most people picked up fallen coconuts from the ground, which served as both water and food.

What I Learned from Typhoon Survivors

Volunteers from the church offloaded food from the truck.

In the community of Barangay Guindag-an, a leader named Floro recounted that Samaritan’s Purse staff came to distribute tarps. He also recalled Samaritan’s Purse staff members communicating hope. They said they were there because of Jesus and told the community members to help each other.

Though that first distribution of tarp wasn’t enough for everyone in the village, they cut it up and shared among themselves. When asked about their future plans, Floro said he wants community members to help each other and share food and water.

This village presented me with the coolest community gift, a traditional hat so large that I had to tilt my head to walk through the door. Everyone in the village has the same hat. It was a thank you gift.

At every single distribution site, people wave and shout “thank you” and “salamat” (“thank you” in Tagalog) a thousand times.

What I Learned from Typhoon Survivors

Members of the Samaritan’s Purse disaster assistance team worked tirelessly in the days following the storm to get food to people in need.

“Our roof and walls right now are from Samaritan’s Purse blue tarp,” Esmar said. “Thank you for that, so at least we’re covered. Thanks so much.”

Though most of them are still living in damaged houses without half of the possessions that most of us have, the typhoon survivors have chosen to be thankful and to share what they do have.