Why We Are Here

December 8, 2013 • Philippines
Typhoon Haiyan Philippines

A Samaritan’s Purse staff member reflects on the damage in the Philippines and the people who are living in it.

Ken Isaacs is the vice president of programs and government relations at Samaritan’s Purse. He arrived in the Philippines shortly after Typhoon Haiyan devastated much of the country.

The 100 plus people on the plane have walked back off the rear loading ramp. They are standing in an orderly fashion on the apron next to the runway. The far left engine of the C130 cargo plane appears to have a problem since the Philippines Air Force mechanics have removed the engine cowling and are standing over the engine in a commercial portable exit staircase as is often seen in smaller airports.

The passengers just left the shell of a building in the Tacloban airport. The floor here is full of garbage and heavy fine dust. Foul smell permeates the air but there is shade here, and the sun is brutal when it is not behind clouds. Even at 6:30 a.m., it steals my breath.

Typhoon Haiyan Philippines

Adelfa has five children and is seven months pregnant. Typhoon Haiyan destroyed her house and her husband’s business. She stayed with a neighbor during the storm.

The Tacloban airport is rather empty now. No reporters are here. Relief supplies are mostly gone from the parking apron edges, but some remain. All of the foreign militaries are gone—the Americans, the Australians, and the South Koreans. The U.S. Marines left a tent city about 500 yards from the airport. It is abandoned, the generators and big tents sitting there unused. I’m certain these materials have been given to the Philippines military, but, for now, no one is using them. Four days ago 100 U.S. Marines were living there.

There have been no security incidents in more than a week. The people seem calm now, at least much more calm than when the news reports showed the looting. People were desperate and afraid then. I think it’s because time has passed, plus the police and military are on the streets in large number to maintain order.

I am surprised that hundreds of people still evacuate daily. I remember after hurricane Katrina, more than 400,000 people left New Orleans permanently. They never returned, and I wonder how many from this area have taken that same step. Those standing behind the plane had what appeared to be their modest worldly remains with them.

From other natural disasters I’ve witnessed, I know that those who have remained here are committed to rebuilding their homes, businesses, communities, churches, and lives. But in about two or three months, they will be challenged by the lack of progress and ongoing hardships.

Typhoon Haiyan Philippines

Elderly people and children have especially suffered since the storm. An unknown amount of children were left as orphans and now must find other family members to care for them.

The entire coastal region of Leyte, the island province of which Tacloban is capital, looks like a war zone. The main roads are open but secondary roads are still opening as debris is removed. Serving through these just-opened roads is eye opening. People are living under the most meager of scrap houses. They had nice houses before Haiyan, but she took all that away. She ground it up so bad that it is hard to find a board more than a couple of feet long.

Businesses are destroyed and totally closed. The entire area of hundreds of thousands of people is unemployed. Those who remained behind are facing huge challenges.

Yesterday and the day before, I prayed with pastors, people who lost their homes, business owners, mayors, and my teammates. The Filipino people need hope, like all of us. That hope is found in Jesus Christ, and I tell them that. They appreciate that Samaritan’s Purse is here and helping them with food, medicine, water, and materials. They say we are bringing light to their communities and lives. I pray that is true and that God gets the glory.

The plane engines were just started, and the plane is roaring down the runway. The crowd standing behind the plane cheered loudly when the cowling was clicked back on. They reentered the plane, and the door closed. I feel many of those who left will return and rebuild in time. I want to see the evangelical churches rebuilt and stronger to share the hope of Christ with them.

That is why we are here.