Two nights ago Steven and I spent the night sleeping on the floor of a squatter shack in Tacloban. The family that had rebuilt the shack since the typhoon Yolando destroyed all the homes in the area. We offered them 300 Pesos (about $7 US) because they put us up for the night, but they refused. They are honest, hardworking, loving people, and all they need is a chance.This devastated family who are friends of Steven invited us in and basically gave us their floor space where they normally sleep, and generously put their mosquito netting around us. The mosquitoes are voracious. I listened to them buzz around trying to get through the netting. Some of them made it in when I had to get off the floor and go pee, and these attacked Steve.
The three story cement apartments across the street were all affected by the wall of water that Yolando swept ashore. One 70+ year-old English man had no clue that there was any danger (he never listens to the news) until the water wall burst through his ground floor apartment door. He said it all happened so very quickly, he had no time to leave the apartment and even run to the stairway to dash upstairs to safety. Many people were able to grab on to the higher apartments and roof and somehow survived.
All he could do was climb on the kitchen counters as the water kept getting deeper and deeper. His head was against the ceiling and he was in dire straights as the water kept coming. Finally, with just his head out of water, it stopped getting deeper.
He just stood there on top of the counters until later the water subsided. Lest I doubt his story, he pointed out the dirty line the water left at its highest point…. just about a foot from the ceiling.
He had come to the Philippines to retire as he had no family, nothing left for him in England.
Of course Yolanda destroyed all his food and water supplies. He almost cried as Steve gave him bottled pure water and a sack of grains and rice.
This man was one of the fortunate few. Many perished as an entire resort enterprise that had been built up near the airport was simply washed away, along with the owner, his wife and children, and grandchildren. The cement was no match for the flowing water. Steve was extremely sad as he remembered better days before Yolanda washed the large communities away. He recounted the many bible studies he had with these people and the meaningful conversations with them.
You can not begin to imagine the mess left by Yolanda. Even cement walls sometimes were no match for the winds and the waves. All that is left of much of Tacloban is piles of rubble. It reminded me of going to the dump. So much splintered wood and shattered concrete. The streets had been “cleared” as much as possible. Hundreds if not thousands of people are scavenging some boards, pieces of sheet metal, whatever they can find to rebuild anything to sleep in at night.
I guess some people have decided the best way to clean up is to burn everything that can be burned, and reduce it in volume. These piles of burning debris are everywhere and the smoke from the fires is like a fog accross the landscape. I had trouble breathing and had to walk some ways to get out of the rolling smoke. I texted Steve that I was having trouble breathing, and he came rushing back from where he had gone to move me to a better location.
At a church, the windows were gone, and the doors off the hinges. The courtyards were filled with huge piles of what was once classrooms and buildings. There is what is left of a broken cement wall being held up by a light pole.
I watched in amazement as a human chain of hardworking diligent undaunted Filipino children, old people, and adults were moving the piles of debris piece by piece. They had little trays, pieces of sheet metal they had scavanged, faces from fans etc., and would fill them up, then pull them along with a rope. Outside on the street, they were depositing their little loads. To me it appeared to be a hopeless task, but they kept right on moving a little bit at a time. They worked diligently and hard for hours.
Some volunteers from the ASI in the USA set up a water purifying plant right there near the church, even as I watched. They trained the local pastors how to purify the water and keep the new portable water purification plant functioning. Then the volunteers were off to another location to set up yet another water purification plant. This was a reverse osmosis purification proceedure. I tried some of the purified water and it was delicious.
About this time, a huge semi supplied by one of Steve’s friends showed up loaded with food. The local church workers worked heriocally unloading this truck with its heavy supplies.
They were not expecting the truck, had no fork lifts and worked for hours moving the supplies. They did the absolute best they could under these adverse circumstances, and I am not sure that anybody could have done any better. I personally praise and uplift their diligent efforts. Thank you to the people in the United States who put together this relief effort with their own funds. Special thanks also to the local people who pitched in. You have to remember that many of the local people are in total shock. Many of their friends and family disappeared in the storm and have never been found. Some of them actually had family ripped from their arms as they were praying.
When food comes, a distribution network needs to be brought in also to distribute the food. Perishable food like bread is not advisable as it cannot be distributed before it spoils in spite of the workers best efforts.
The Tacloban Conference workers that have chosen to stay and work are working just as fast and as hard as they can. Yet there are those who will continue to criticize them for the lack of ability. We need more people and Steven Jenkins has decided to stay and help in any way he can. Rather than criticising people (who are absolutely doing their utmost for Jesus) we need to come along side and help them.
The ceiling of the front of the church was damaged by Yolanda. There is a hole in the roof. Out on the street that runs by the church are huge piles of debris. In fact, in some places it is hard to walk because of the piles of debris.
There is NO electricity because Yolanda has destroyed all the power lines. It is unbearably hot (for me–Steve likes the heat) and it never cools down. Finally, after documenting all the damage (Steve even saw a truck full of body bags being driven ahead of him in Tacloban) we had to leave. It has been nearly a month since the storm and new bodies are being discovered and dug out of the rubble nearly every day. Many of our church family here are still missing and presumed dead.
The needs here are incredible. Some food is trickling in, but there are still hundreds and hundreds (actually it is thousands) of people who are going to bed hungry every night.
We are staying temporarily in Cebu, which is a different island. Yolanda did not destroy everything like it did in Tacloban. There is electricity here, and even intermittent internet connections. Steve is now on his 13th trip here to the Philippines and because of his network of incredible friends, we are now actually sitting in an air conditioned room, and I am finally able to think.
The people here in Cebu are doing a heroic work providing places for some of the volunteers who have come to help rebuild and clean up. It is a modern day miracle that we can even communicate this with you.
I wish I could do more to help. This cleanup process is going to take a long time, and only then can rebuilding begin in earnest. Seeing all the devastation and witnessing the positive attitude of these wonderful people has changed my life.
We in the United States and elsewhere are so incredibly blessed. I know that when I get home, I am sending some of my money here every month to help buy food for the hungry, help buy materials to build new homes.
When I first arrived in Manila after a long 18 hours of being in airports and flying on airplanes, the first thing that assailed me was the intense moist heat. It was like walking off the plane into a sauna bath. And the heat is unrelenting. I thought I would have a heat stroke. I was (and occasionally am) so miserable. You cannot imagine the agony I went through. Steve was convinced I would eventually “adjust” and be fine. It never happened.
The next thing after the heat was the horrible stench. There is the smell of thick noxious exhaust fumes. Fortunately Steve had some friends near the airport in Manila and we were able to secure a small room with a fan. It had an air conditioner, but we never turned it on due to the expense it would cause.
One more thing that I never did get used to. Their bathrooms are far different. There is indeed a toilet, but it is shorter than the ones in the USA. And there usually is no seat, no water tank. Instead, you are supposed to squat over the toilet and do your movement. Then you notice a faucet within reach just above a bucket with a pail with a long handle attached. You are supposed to fill the bucket, and then take the pail with the handle and clean up your bottom. Steve tried to explain how to do it, but I never caught on. I still used toilet paper (and I did try the water thing, but it never worked right for me–slinging the water on my fanny.)
These bathrooms are called COMFORT ROOMS or CR’s. Some of them have only this toilet, a bucket and ladle thing, and a faucet. And most of them are not much bigger than a phone booth. For me it was FAR from a comforting room.
Now at the Kolapa mission house/school for health on Biliran Island that Steven Jenkins started on the opposite side that Yolando washed ashore was basically spared. A family whose house was severely damaged has taken up residence there. But there is no running water.The water arrives in a one inch plastic pipe that fills up two large plastic containers that look all the world like childrens wading pools that are about 3 feet deep. They probably hold about 20-30 gallons. They also seem to have slow leaks, and the water only arrives inermittentantly, mostly at night at a very slow trickle.
When it rains, the metal roof leaks due to the many rust holes that have formed.
While we were there, Steve was able to have a cement floor put in two rooms and a brick wall built much higher, but we still need a new roof.
Each day is a constant grind for this mission family. They were so relieved that we brought supplies with us so they could eat.
The Cebu Conference and Tacloban Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist church have been so kind to us during this time of crises. Please consider this Conference in your Christmas giving this year, and support the mission of the Central Philippines, especially Tacloban. This is a time of love and support, not criticism.