“The whole house was lifted up into the air and dumped over there, upside down,” says Pacita Antonano, 71, waving her arms dramatically as she describes the moment when Typhoon Haiyan took her home.
It took me a few moments to realize that Pacita was actually still inside the wooden structure as it was sent spinning by the ferocity of the super typhoon that raged through this fishing village at up to 185 mph. “I lay in the mud for four hours with a post pinned across my neck,” she says. “It was so loud and very frightening.”
Sitio Tibi, a small village just south of Concepcion where Pacita lives, has a post-apocalyptic feel to it. On the island of Panay, it lies close to the center of the path of Haiyan, or Yolanda as it is known locally. This area has not yet received much aid attention, and families need short-term help as well as more long-term assistance to rebuild their boats and restore their livelihoods. Families huddle in makeshift shelters amid the wreckage of their homes, surrounded by a landscape stripped of vegetation and littered with fallen trees and electricity poles.
“The whole house was lifted up into the air and dumped over there, upside down”
Not far away, Mark Tizon sits with neighbors near what used to be his home. It is now simply a platform on stilts, upon which lies a wok, a broken chair, and a shattered TV—all that remains of the family’s possessions. Six-year-old Yanna Joy and her cousin Janna Marie, younger by one year, smile mischievously for the camera and shriek with laughter when they see themselves on the screen. Their dad describes how he dragged the two girls and three-year-old Lorimar to the relative safety of a nearby ditch, where they stayed until the worst of the storm passed.
“It was so scary,” he says. “I was afraid I would lose one of them in the strong wind.”
Little Lorimar sleeps fitfully on the floor of a nearby bus shelter, which now provides the most basic of protection for several families, brought together under one flimsy plastic roof by circumstance. As night falls, we continue to the city of Concepcion, which lay right in the path of the storm and obviously bore its brunt. Shattered homes and debris are everywhere and fires dot the landscape, providing some light and an eerie atmosphere. There will be no electricity here until mid-December.
At the town hall, Delvy Balasbas of the Mayor’s office runs through the numbers. “Across this area we estimate that 7,000 homes have been totally destroyed and another two thousand badly damaged,” he says.
He estimates that the number of people affected is over 40,000. Many, like Rowena Arjona and her eight children, are still taking refuge in the evacuation centers to which they fled before the storm hit. She welcomes us with a warm smile and a battered chair to her temporary home, Concepcion Central School, where 14 families have been living for a week and a half now. The Arjona family home is gone and they have been getting by on food supplies provided by the government. “Everything was swept away,” Rowena says. “It has been very traumatic.”
“Across this area we estimate that 7,000 homes have been totally destroyed and another two thousand badly damaged”
The local government system does appear to be functioning well. Earlier, we had visited the Provincial Center in Bacolod where dozens of volunteers, coordinated by officials, were sorting through donated food and clothing, making it ready for distribution to outlying areas.
“People here are well used to dealing with storms,” says Dominic MacSorley, Chief Executive Officer of Concern Worldwide. “They are resilient and resourceful, but it’s the sheer scale of Haiyan and the destruction it caused that has overwhelmed them. Much of the focus of the international response has been in Tacloban, but there are many outlying areas, like Panay, which have yet to get any outside help.”
Concern, with decades of experience in responding to emergencies, identified the island as neglected and is airlifting basic supplies to the area and plans to work with the government and local organizations to help meet the immediate and longer-term needs of those affected. “We are focusing initially on the need for shelter and household items,” MacSorley says, “but we also recognize that up to 70 percent of these coastal communities rely on fishing for a living and we will look at how we can help them recover their livelihoods.”
“Much of the focus of the international response has been in Tacloban, but there are many outlying areas, like Panay, which have yet to get any outside help.”
Back at the school in Concepcion, a smiling Rowena clasps her three-month-old daughter tightly and thanks us for visiting. She and her children face another uncomfortable night on the floor of a classroom they share with two other families, and yet they do not complain. And this is what has been most striking about the people we have met here. Though the disaster has brought unprecedented destruction to homes and communities, it has not dampened the spirit of the Filipinos, who face the days of recovery ahead with a sense of dignity and good humor.
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