Survivors Mark One Year Anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan

Photo: Matthew Paul Turner

It is difficult to believe one year has passed since Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines’ central islands. Claiming the lives of over 6,000 people with 1,100 still missing, Haiyan was one of the most devastating and deadly cyclones to ever hit the country.

In the aftermath of the storm, emergency efforts from non-governmental agencies commenced rather quickly. World Vision, for example, has worked in the Philippines for over fifty years and was one of the first NGO responders to the crisis. Many World Vision staff in Tacloban started helping the community as soon as they knew the whereabouts of their family members. But, the devastation and lack of communications created an environment where it took World Vision’s Haiyan Response team two days to reach Tacloban from Manila. On an ordinary day, it only takes an hour. The first order of business was to locate all local staff and then the emergency phase began.

“We started moving very quickly getting out basic necessities like food and potable water,” said Jenny MacCann, World Vision Haiyan Response Operations Director.  “We also started cash for work programs and debris clearance.”

Since the first phase of the Haiyan recovery began, international NGOs have worked in tandem to aid as many people as possible in the hardest hit areas as well as prevent duplication in the field. One year on, considerable progress has been made to return to normal after Haiyan. Businesses are running again, children are back in school, and most importantly new storm-resistant homes are being built. It goes without saying, however, that there is still work to be done and beneficiaries to reach, but given the level of devastation a year ago and the level of clean-up and recovery present now it’s obvious that the community with the help of NGOS and the government has worked together to rebuild lives.

“People smile and come back together and they work hard for their own communities,” MacCann said.

One-Year Anniversary Vigil in Tacloban

Saturday, November 8, 2014 marked the one-year anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan. In Tacloban thousands of Haiyan survivors turned out to pay their respects to and remember their lost loved ones and friends by lighting candles along the stretch of road mere kilometers away from the ocean where there were mass casualties.

Photo: Jennifer James

Along the vigil route I met Editha, 67, who lit several candles in honor of the victims. Though she didn’t lose any family members it is customary to show signs of respect to those who lost their lives during the storm.

“I was in my house and I hugged a wood beam,” Editha said about weathering Haiyan. “The roof was blown away and the water was high. I held onto the beam until 10 AM.” The storm started at 5 AM.

Ahead of Saturday’s  vigil ceremony I also visited Dulag’s mass graves where many people who lived near the ocean couldn’t escape the storm surge and drowned.  Dulag is about 90 minutes from Tacloban City. “I went to the coastal villages and forced evacuation,” said Manuel Boy’ Sia Que, the mayor of Dulag municipality. “No one suspected that a big, big typhoon would hit us.”

Survivors of Haiyan

Joan Suarez, Hezil B. Durana, and Joan Botero lost 16 family members that day – their mother, sister, brother, and cousins. After two days they found their mother covered by debris. And they found their sister’s body along the road.

“We walked for three kilometers to find them,” said Suarez. “We were walking like zombies with no food or water. It was very difficult.”

A Plan for the Future

While there is still much work to be done there is a 2015 timetable where many of the NGOs will turn over their recovery and rehabilitation operations to the local governments.  With no security concerns, no funding constraints, or any massive human resource challenges many of the NGOs believe it is in the best interest of Filipinos to continue the rebuilding efforts.

“I will be honest with you,” said Andrew Rosauer, World Vision Haiyan Response Director. “There wasn’t enough attention paid to disaster preparedness. We know that this type of emergency will continue and increase in the future. We need to invest in resiliency plans.

Read more articles from this trip.

I am currently in the Philippines with World Vision USA to report on their ongoing recovery and rehabilitation programs after Typhoon Haiyan. 

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