Typhoon Haiyan: Helping survivors to jump ship and land on their feet

News Stories, 24 December 2013

© UNHCR/K.Bolisay
Rosita Pica and her family preparing dinner near their temporary shelter in Tacloban, the Philippines.

TACLOBAN, the Philippines, December 24 (UNHCR) For 31 days, a rusting dredging ship tossed by Typhoon Haiyan 100 metres inland into a coastal shanty town was home for seven-month-pregnant Rosita Pica and her family.

Along with 38 other families, they shared cramped spaces inside the vessel that was also home to many dead bodies. The stench of decomposition mixed with the smell of crude oil and other odours was overpowering even more than a month later.

Living conditions were bad, but there was no other choice for the 34-year-old mother of five and 190 other survivors, mostly children. Their homes had been destroyed and debris was strewn all over. There was nowhere else to shelter them from the rains and looters roaming the city in the early days of the emergency.

"We had to endure it all. We had nowhere else to go," said Rosita, a survivor of Haiyan, the strongest cyclone to ever hit land, killing more than 6,000 people, uprooting trees and power poles and demolishing even concrete structures along its path.

Rosita and her family survived the storm by taking refuge in an evacuation site. Her hut was destroyed. When she and the other residents of an area called Barangay 75 saw the beached ship, they climbed the vessel that lay awkwardly among a sea of debris and took refuge there. They crammed its every nook and cranny, even the ledges in the engine room.

"It was hot during the night, mosquitoes feasted on us," Rosita said.

The people there shared one stove to cook food rations handed out by the government's Department of Social Welfare and Development. It rained most of the days and when it stopped, they would use two makeshift ladders to climb down from the vessel and sleep in the debris below. This was particularly dangerous for the children living on the ship.

Some local residents brought the plight of Rosita and the other residents to UNHCR's attention.

"When we found the community still living on the boat, we contacted UNDP [the UN Development Programme] that immediately mobilized its cash-for-work workers to clear some of the debris around the area," said UNHCR's Eilish Hurley, who has been deployed to Tacloban to respond to the crisis. "This allowed UNHCR and its partner agency CFSI [Community and Family Services International] to provide family tents for the boat residents so that they could escape the squalor and dangers that the ship posed to them."

Solar lanterns were also distributed along with blankets and kitchen sets to help communities temporarily set up a safer and more dignified living space while a permanent site was identified.

A day after receiving the tent, Rosita's husband an assistant in an electrical shop pitched it near the ship that was once their home. Rosita chatted animatedly with her neighbours, patted her tummy and remarked, "If this baby is a girl, I will name her Yolanda," referring to the local name for the typhoon.

Tacloban is gradually showing some signs of normalcy with roads being cleared, small shops re-opening slowly and electricity being restored in some parts of the city. But mounds of twisted corrugated iron roofs and steel, crushed concrete and wood still litter the landscape, including around the tents of Rosita and her neighbours. This is being cleared gradually by the government and UNDP.

Four million people still remain displaced after the storm and it will take many months and years before some of them are able to rebuild their homes and lives.

To date, UNHCR has assisted over 306,000 survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, distributing family tents, solar lanterns, plastic sheets, plastic rolls, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans.

The most appreciated items are the temporary shelter materials. UNHCR tents have been set up throughout the city, providing much-needed emergency shelter to people like Rosita. As she noted, these tents and solar lamps have given her and other families temporary respite from their suffering.

By Fernando del Mundo, in Tacloban, the Philippines

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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

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

Philippines: A home for NowPlay video

Philippines: A home for Now

Losing your family and home is losing everything you are and have. Tyhone Haiyan tore many families apart and took almost every persons home in Tacloban City ... in one day. UNHCR has provided more than 1,500 family tents to families in this area in addition to solar lanterns, plastic sheets, blankets and other relief items to help the people of Tacloban City regain a sense of life.
Philippines: A home for NowPlay video

Philippines: A home for Now

Losing your family and home is losing everything you are and have. Tyhone Haiyan tore many families apart and took almost every persons home in Tacloban City ... in one day. UNHCR has provided more than 1,500 family tents to families in this area in addition to solar lanterns, plastic sheets, blankets and other relief items to help the people of Tacloban City regain a sense of life.
Philippines: Leaving the Darkness Play video

Philippines: Leaving the Darkness

When typhoon Haiyan swept Tacloban City, it took with it what people need the most to see their way through any hard time: light. UNHCR has provided people of the Philippines with relief items that are helping make a difference. Relief items such as solar lanterns, plastic sheets, blankets and more than 1,500 family tents to families in this area.