Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Plan's Emergency Response Team in the Philippines: A City Desperate to Survive

Cross-post from the personal blog of Plan International’s Internal Communications Specialist in Asia, Hatai Limprayoonyong, reporting from the Philippines.

Trees have been torn from the ground and lie uprooted at the side of the road. Buildings are reduced to rubble. Electricity polls have toppled over. Boats lie upside down on the ground and huge six-wheel lorries are overturned. This is the road I am taking to Tacloban City, an area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.

Tacloban has never seen devastation like this. Before Typhoon Haiyan roared though the city on Friday, it was a beautiful place. Right now, everything has been turned upside down.

I have been traveling, together with my colleagues from charity Plan International, to the affected area all day, but we’re yet to arrive. We are on the outskirts of Tacloban, just five to ten minutes away, says the driver, but the scene is chaotic. The roads are narrow and all I can see are people walking.

The car is moving slowly, very slowly – we want to get there so we can carry out assessments, distribute relief and check on our own staff there. As we get nearer, the smell of dead bodies pervades. Some of them are littered by the side of the road, mixed in with the rubbish, but people just ignore them. When you see it, when you can sense it, smell it and feel it - it’s awful.

There’s no food or water here and all around me, people are desperately trying to find something to eat. Girls and boys are carrying packs of noodles and dry foods, grabbing anything they can find from shattered shops. It’s difficult to stop and ask how they’re feeling when they’re lumbered down with so many things.

Now, looting is taking place because these people are desperate to survive. They are facing a depressing scenario and for a brief moment, I wonder whether I would do the same in that situation. One of my colleagues from Plan went to talk to some store owners and they say everything has gone. Now, people are looking to a damaged factory for food supplies, but the owner says he’s given everything away too.

I’ve see people walking towards the city and coming back with food. Apparently people are selling food at the entrance to the city, while concern remains high from the military that those who try to enter Tacloban just want to loot it.

The city is in chaos and destruction remains as far as the eye can see - and it’s something that 19-year-old Charlene is living through. Charlene is living in a temporary shelter, after her home was washed away. The only thing that remains from her kitchen is the counter. The rest is gone. She used to live near one of the official government buildings, made out of brick, but even that could not withstand the force of Typhoon Haiyan.

Charlene says that people are starting to get sick, and what they need right now is food, water and medicine. The teenager wants to stay with her aunties and her brother and she longs to go back to school, to normality. She tells me she is trying to stay strong, that she is praying for other victims affected by the typhoon and that we can get through this together.

Her bravery is a testament to the people of of the Philippines. Around me, I see families shielding their children from the aftermath of this typhoon, while one four-year-old boy is playing at the side of the road, unaware of the magnitude of this disaster.

We’re yet to see the state of the school and the evacuation centres, who knows what they will be like, who knows what will happen next. Our car is still slowly edging towards Tacloban and it seems we will be here for some time. I think I will have to sleep here tonight.

To help ensure that families affected have the resources needed to rebuild and recover, please visit Plan’s Disaster Relief & Recovery Fund page.

We will contact sponsors directly if we receive any news about individual sponsored children. If you are planning a visit or have any particular concerns around this issue, please contact our Donor Relations staff at donorrelations@planusa.org or at 1-800-556-7918.

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