For this displaced family, a tent is a fresh start

TANAUAN, Philippines – After Typhoon Haiyan cut a path of destruction across Central Philippines, Gil Lopez was among the hordes of survivors waiting in line for the first flight out of the devastated region. Three months later, he is happy to be back. A long bus ride brought Gil, 49, […]

TANAUAN, Philippines – After Typhoon Haiyan cut a path of destruction across Central Philippines, Gil Lopez was among the hordes of survivors waiting in line for the first flight out of the devastated region. Three months later, he is happy to be back.

A long bus ride brought Gil, 49, back home to Tanauan town in eastern Leyte. Until January, he lived with his wife and three children on the streets of Rizal, a neighboring province of Manila, for nearly two months after the typhoon. Today, his family has found a home in San Roque Elementary School in Tanauan, where more than 200 tents provided by the UN refugee agency harbor over 1,000 typhoon survivors.

“It’s better here. Here, I can find work, and I have peace of mind knowing that we won’t starve and that we’re safe,” said Gil, a retired policeman who now works as a laborer.

Gil hopes to begin afresh, earning a living by clearing debris left behind by Typhoon Haiyan in his hometown.

More than 1,000 people perished in Tanauan when the typhoon’s whipping winds carried massive waves into the coastal town. Gil and his family evacuated to a nearby gymnasium, where they sought refuge until the storm abated.

Having lost their home to the typhoon–and with it, their remaining food and clothing—they trekked for two days to the nearest airport in Tacloban, 16 kilometers away, to seek help. They paused at government buildings along the way to get some rest.

“Back then, you would see hundreds of families walking towards the airport. Parents carrying their children and so many people crying,” he recalled.

Another grim scene awaited them at the airport.

“There must have been thousands of people there (airport). There was no space, nowhere to sleep in. We had to share whatever food and medicines were available with other survivors,” said Gil, who suffers from asthma.

It took five days before his family could board a C-130 plane bound for Manila. In the capital city, they were driven by a volunteer to his wife’s relatives in Montalban, Rizal. There, they did not find the reception they wanted.

“My wife’s relatives said they couldn’t afford to feed us so they asked us to leave on the same day that we arrived. We ended up staying beside a river in Montalban,” he said.

After more than a month of begging for food and living in squalid conditions without proper shelter, Gil’s three-year-old son also developed asthma. The father and son, racked by the disease, were soon rushed to a public hospital in the vicinity for medical attention. Through the assistance of the Philippine government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development, they were transferred by bus back to Tanauan after being discharged.

Once in his hometown, Gil sought his relatives and found some of them living among the cluster of UNHCR-supplied tents in San Roque Elementary School. Gil’s family has now joined them with a tent of their own.

They are among the 4.1 million displaced by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Shelter and livelihood have emerged as two of the most urgent needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) three months after the disaster. As more and more IDPs return to their places of origin every day, continuous support remains the key to helping put them on the track to recovery.


Contact persons:
Marmie Liquigan (Manila), External Relations/PSFR, [email protected], +639189208765
Johanna Morden (Manila), External Relations, [email protected], +639173055573
Kent Bolisay (Tacloban), External Relations, [email protected], +639294577645