It has been more than one month since Typhoon Haiyan swept across the Visayas region of the Philippines, making landfall for the fifth time at Concepcion, and the devastation it left behind is still visible at every turn.
Located on the island of Panay, the municipality of Concepcion is made up of 25 Barangays (districts), 11 of which are on small islands off the mainland. In the town, debris lines the streets and the shoreline–the wreckage of people’s homes, their boats, even children’s toys and clothes are still scattered. Telephone poles and power lines remain downed. The local school, which acted as an evacuation center during the typhoon, is still home to 14 families. Its students are on an extended break until at least early January.
Xcyl Villegas, a 17-year-old student, is volunteering her free time at the mayor’s office to help with the relief effort. While she usually enjoys school holidays, she hopes to become a teacher and is looking forward to getting back to her studies. She only mentions that her own house has been destroyed when asked directly about her experience of the typhoon. “We also need help,” she says.
Generosity, even humor, amid devastation
On the island of Danao Danao, there is no clean water, yet we are offered cold beverages in the sweltering heat. It is genuinely humbling. People who have themselves suffered great loss are helping others. Everyone is working together. The warmth and upbeat humor we have encountered almost masks the suffering that Haiyan wreaked. Physical evidence of the damage is all around, but it is only when people open up about their own experiences that a sense of personal struggle and loss comes across.
Many are overcome with emotion as they tell their stories.
Personal stories of shock and survival
Tears rolled down Donna Maabong’s face as she shared the terror she felt that day. Many men on Danao Danao did not evacuate, instead staying behind to protect their boats. “All the day and all the night, we were praying that they would be safe and that no one would be dead,” she recalls.
The men’s efforts were in vain. Most had to abandon their boats to save their lives. Donna bows her head and explains, “It is hard because four of the men have been missing since that night.”’ The fear and shock that people felt as the typhoon struck with such ferocity is conveyed in story after story. No one expected winds so strong, or the huge waves that followed. “At the time that the typhoon hit, it was low tide,” says Gildreth Hbancio from the island Barangay of Igbon. “We thank God that the typhoon hit in the early morning and not in the evening when it is very dark. We all say that if it came late at night…probably many would have died.”
Loss of homes and livelihoods
Even with daylight on their side so they could run to the mountain for cover, the scale of loss the people of Igbon have suffered has crippled their capacity to recover by themselves. Gildreth spoke from the rubble where her house used to stand. Most of her neighbors’ homes were also reduced to a mess of wood, trees, and fishing nets.
Local authorities have been well-organized and were able to deliver food supplies in the immediate aftermath of the typhoon. Their capacity to respond without international support has been totally overwhelmed on this occasion, but they have done everything in their power to facilitate the smooth delivery of relief items in the weeks since.
From relief to recovery
All of the people we spoke to in Igbon were relieved to receive the emergency shelter and kits of relief items that were distributed that day. However, they all said what they need now are materials and tools to rebuild their homes and boats. In a place where fishing is the main source of income, destroyed boats means lost livelihoods for already poor families. Very few boats were left intact on Igbon and most of the men have not been able to fish since Haiyan hit.
Back in mainland Concepcion, the sounds of construction still ring out as people set about repairs with whatever materials are readily available, but few have the resources to rebuild without assistance. Restoring livelihoods is a huge part of the process.
Next step: restoring fishing boats and rebuilding livelihoods
In Concepcion also, fishing is the primary source of income. But 2,300 fishing boats out of an estimated 2,500 have been damaged or destroyed—a devastating blow to the local economy. Concern is working closely with local authorities to provide a financial support package to affected families for replacement and repair work on these boats so that they can regain their livelihoods.
The one-month anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan—December 8th—fell on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, from which Concepcion takes its name. It is usually marked by week-long festivities, but this year, the damage sustained here is too great for festivities. The people have lost too much.
Nonetheless, the people of Concepcion did not let one of the most important days of their calendar pass without recognition. Religious ceremonies, though somber, were held. Families and friends gathered. It ended with a gathering in the town square, where people reflected on their collective loss, but also celebrated everything they still have to build on, their gaze firmly fixed on the future.