Typhoon Haiyan evacuees share tales of loss, survival

Telling the Human Story, 15 November 2013

© UNHCR/R.Rocamora
Walter Valdez, a 33-year-old waiter, lost his wife and three children when the typhoon hit Tacloban. Two of his children are missing.

CEBU, Philippines, November 15 (UNHCR) Jane Ilagan knew something was wrong when she tasted the "salty rain." The storm surge that accompanied Typhoon Haiyan in the early hours of November 8 drenched her home with seawater and made her family flee to higher ground. Even there, the water came up to her chest.

"For seven hours until the water receded, we had to lift the kids up so they wouldn't be soaked. It was very cold and their lips were turning black," said the 33-year-old mother of one from Guiuan. The municipality is located in the central Philippines province of Eastern Samar, where the devastating typhoon first made landfall.

"Everyone who lives close to the [Guiuan] coastline is dead," Ilagan said. "I'm just happy to be alive." The UN estimates that 11.8 million people were affected by the disaster, including more than 920,000 made homeless. The government says more than 3,600 deaths had been reported as of Thursday, but the actual number was likely to be higher.

Walter Alvarez almost joined the death toll. The 23-year-old resident of Tacloban, one of the worse-hit areas, found his wife, daughter and mother-in-law's bodies after the flooding eased. Two children are still missing. He survived by holding onto a coconut tree, squeezing it so tight, he cut his arms and legs. A week later, the scabs are healing slowly.

But his heart is still raw. "I cannot stand the pain and trauma of staying in Tacloban," he said, explaining why he decided to board the C130 aid delivery flight run by the military to Cebu a few days ago.

Both Walter and Jane were among dozens at a transit centre in Cebu for people evacuated by air from the typhoon-affected areas. Here they are registered and given cooked food and clothes donated by the community. They sleep in the centre or the garden outside, and queue up for the two bathrooms available.

Some have found their own way, but many are waiting for a chance to go to the Philippines capital, Manila.

Jane said her extended family left Guiuan because the coconut trees had all collapsed. For people who rely on these trees to weave mats for a living, losing them meant losing their livelihood and time to look elsewhere for the means to survive.

"We don't have money to go to Manila by ourselves," said Jane, who has been at the Cebu transit centre with her extended family since last Saturday. "We hope we can get a ride with a humanitarian plane going there."

Walter sighs: "I don't know how to go on alone. I plan to go to Manila and restart my life. Maybe one day when I'm better, I'll go back to Tacloban."

UNHCR is working in Cebu to coordinate the logistical supply of relief items for typhoon survivors. It is airlifting emergency tents and non-food supplies for 80,000 people. It is also planning to distribute solar-powered lamps to enhance the safety of women and children at risk. Co-leading the protection cluster with the government under the inter-agency response to this natural disaster, UNHCR also provides protection coordination and delivery, identifying the most vulnerable people and ensuring their access to basic aid and services.

By Vivian Tan in Cebu, Philippines

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Typhoon Haiyan: On the Road to Recovery Six Months After the Storm

Six months after Typhoon Haiyan carved its deadly and destructive path through the central Philippines and forcibly displaced 4 million Filipinos, the area is like a big construction site as people get on with rebuilding their flattened homes as well as their lives. Many have moved into renovated homes while thousands of those who fled to cities like Cebu and Manila have returned home. But large numbers still live in tents or former evacuation centres; full recovery is still some way off and many people need help. UNHCR is working with the government and other partners to address the challenges and find solutions for the displaced. The refugee agency has provided assistance to more than 600,000 people, distributing shelter materials and household items, including solar-powered lanterns in areas where there is still no electricity. UNHCR is also supporting a government-led mobile civil registration project to give 100,000 people continued access to social welfare, education and employment. Photographer Jeoffrey Maitem marked the six-month milestone by visiting communities recovering from Typhoon Haiyan.

Typhoon Haiyan: On the Road to Recovery Six Months After the Storm

Typhoon Haiyan Devastates the Philippines

An estimated 13 million people were affected when Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines on November 8. Thousands were killed and about 3 million are believed to be displaced - some of them living in evacuation sites, others on the ruins of their former homes. Tacloban City in Leyte province was one of the hardest-hit areas. A week after the typhoon made landfall, large parts of its coast remain flattened and piles of debris still line the streets. Working with the Philippines government and UN and NGO partners, UNHCR is airlifting emergency supplies for thousands of survivors. The agency is delivering tents, plastic sheets, mosquito nets and other critical aid. It is also co-leading the protection cluster with the government, working to identify vulnerable people and ensuring that they have access to basic assistance and services. UNHCR has appealed for US$15 million to meet these critical needs. UNHCR is now present in Tacloban and Ormoc in Leyte province, as well as Guiuan in Eastern Samar province.

Typhoon Haiyan Devastates the Philippines

One Year On: Thousands Still Recovering from Typhoon Haiyan

On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan - one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record anywhere - ran ashore in the central Philippines, causing wide devastation, displacing 4 million people and killing at least 6,300. A year on, and the recovery work still goes on. While most of the 4.1 million people who were displaced have either returned home to rebuild, or been relocated, solutions are still needed for some 20,000 people either living in shelters or - in a small number of cases - with host families.

The UN refugee agency and partners such as shipments and logistics giant United Parcel Service (UPS) were swift to respond last November, contributing funds for immediate needs and for long-term recovery. Funding was used to provide critical aid during the emergency, including tents, solar-powered lanterns and protection kits.

A year after the typhoon struck, some people in Leyte province, one of the areas hardest hit, are still rebuilding their lives. People still need help with physical dwellings, water and sanitation, hygiene, as well as land and property issues. Some live in tents, others have moved into transitional housing and some families are building new houses. Despite the trauma, there is a real sense of hope for the future among the people of Leyte. Photographer Phil Behan and UNHCR staff member Marjanna Bergman visited the central Philippines to record the situation today.

One Year On: Thousands Still Recovering from Typhoon Haiyan

Philippines: One Year After Typhoon HaiyanPlay video

Philippines: One Year After Typhoon Haiyan

On November 8 last year, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the central Philippines, causing widespread devastation and killing thousands of people. A year on, and the recovery work still goes on. Bartolome on Leyte Island looks back at his family's experience, including living on a dredger for several weeks after their home was destroyed.
Philippines: One Year After Typhoon HaiyanPlay video

Philippines: One Year After Typhoon Haiyan

On November 8 last year, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the central Philippines, causing widespread devastation and killing thousands of people. A year on, and the recovery work still goes on. Bartolome on Leyte Island looks back at his family's experience, including living on a dredger for several weeks after their home was destroyed.
Philippines : Rebuilding a Year After Typhoon HaiyanPlay video

Philippines : Rebuilding a Year After Typhoon Haiyan

One year ago, the central Philippines was hit by Typhoon Haiyan, a massive storm that wiped out entire communities and killed more than 6,000 people. Today, the residents of hard-hit areas such as Leyte Island are well on their way to rebuilding their lives.