Typhoon Haiyan: Seeking Salvacion with a little help from family and friends

News Stories, 21 January 2014

© UNHCR/K.Bolisay
Typhoon Haiyan survivor Elma Marcha cleans the net her husband uses to fish at night. The devastated population of Salvacion island is slowly recovering with government and international support.

SALVACION, the Philippines, January 21 (UNHCR) For most Filipinos, families are the fabric of life. On the day Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Visayas region of eastern Philippines, Elma Marcha felt her world unravel as she was forced to choose between saving her parents and her daughter.

In the early morning of November 8, Elma, 41, had decided to stay at their house on the remote island of Salvacion in Samar province together with her parents and her 13-year-old daughter Rosarie. Her husband and three other children were evacuated to a community building nearby.

When the 17-foot storm surge hit their home shortly after, Elma carried her parents in her arms, frail and shivering, and paddled their way through the rising water. They begged her to let go, saying "Save your daughter" before they were engulfed by another surge of water.

"There was no room for dilly-dallying in what seemed to be like an apocalypse. I had to look for Rosarie who does not know how to swim," said Elma, recounting the moment she had to swim to the girl, fighting against the rush of water and debris.

Elma sustained cuts and wounds in the wake of the one of the strongest typhoons ever to hit land. "I never had the time to cry or absorb what happened to my parents," she said, explaining that her immediate concern was to find her husband and other children.

She found them taking refuge in a nearby church. All were safe except for her parents, still missing two months later.

Survivors returned to a scene of utter destruction, with no food and water for three days. Aid delivery took time largely due to the community's remote island location and the fact that major roads and passages were blocked by uprooted coconut trees and mounds of debris.

As the co-lead of the Protection Cluster in the inter-agency response to Typhoon Haiyan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has been assessing the needs and providing relief supplies to far-flung areas like Salvacion, located in the Concabato Bay opposite Tacloban city.

The village chief, Antonio Dizon, provided two boats for the UNHCR team to transport 300 family tents, 100 plastic sheets, 20 plastic rolls and 300 fleece blankets to the area. "The team braved the seas to bring aid to the 300 homeless families who have endured harsh conditions in the island Barangay for almost a month," he said.

But the job is not yet complete. "Now that the tents are set up, we are expediting the delivery of 380 solar lanterns. Remote areas like this need temporary lighting as it will take time for the electricity to be restored here," said Arjun Jain, leading the UNHCR's emergency response in Tacloban.

To date, UNHCR has assisted more than 432,000 people in typhoon-stricken communities with emergency shelter and relief materials. Survivors have now started rebuilding their homes. Some have resumed fishing, a major form of livelihood in Salvacion, signalling a return to normality.

Elma's family returned to what was left of their house, the kitchen area, and were happy to receive the UNHCR supplies in December. "The gesture from UNHCR was like a Christmas present to us," said Elma. "In the morning, my husband fixes our house and at night we sleep comfortably in the tent that can accommodate two families."

Besides meeting the immediate needs, UNHCR will be setting up free mobile birth registration with the Department of Social Welfare and Development to address the loss of civil documentation among survivors.

For Elma who lost her family's civil documents, this will save what's left of her meagre resources as she will not have to pay the legal fees normally required to retrieve copies of their birth certificates from the municipal civil registrar or the National Statistics Office.

She says the help her family has been getting from the government and humanitarian organizations has restored their self-worth and put them back on their feet. Despite her impoverished and modest household, Elma maintains she is still fortunate that her husband and children survived what she calls the longest five minutes of her life.

"We've accepted the fact that my parents are gone," she said. "I still take strength from my husband and children they are what I live for. It's difficult but life goes on for us here. A new year is always a new start."

By Keneath Bolisay in Salvacion, the Philippines

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

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

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.