AMURT & AMURTEL relief teams are working on five islands serving tens of thousands of people and are expanding operations to assist more communities affected by Super-Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda.
The typhoon devastated wide swathes of the central Philippines and has displaced 4 million people. The official death toll continues to rise well over 5000, making it the deadliest natural disaster in the country’s history. Thousands are still missing and more than a million houses have been totally or partly destroyed.
AMURT relief teams on Leyte, Panay and Bantayan islands, and another in northern Cebu province, have all been providing cooked food and bottled water; a further team on Samar island assessed the worst-affected areas in preparation for a possible longer-term recovery intervention.
In Tacloban AMURT has 22 stoves operating around the clock, the only source of cooked food and rice for the homeless and hungry survivors of the disaster. In some outlying areas, AMURT also provided basic medical care to the many people with injuries that remained untreated due to the lack of medical supplies.
AMURT’s local volunteer base is unique, says Visayas Relief Coordinator John Fields. “Like in the earthquake, we were definitely the only ones giving cooked food; NGOs usually only collect and distribute because cooking is too much work, but cooked food is a really, really good thing.”
AMURT has established a base in what remains of Tacloban’s City Hall, but has also been expanding feeding programs to many far-flung towns around the city. A recent supply shipment, escorted by the military, included diesel fuel for trucks to reach more distant places.
“You can’t get gas there so easily”, observes John.
In northern Cebu province, many young children attending AMURT feedings told staff that their schools are ruined and they’ve just been cleaning: a task especially difficult without electricity or water. The whole community is dependent upon sending a truck for drinking water once a day; there’s no other water available for personal hygiene use.
One child said, “It’s difficult because of no water, no house and our farms are totally destroyed.”
Security has naturally been a concern due to people’s desperation, but response to AMURT teams has been very positive.
“Of course – how are they going to steal cooked food from us?”, points out John. “We do have to be very secretive where our supplies are. All of our team members are coming from other cities, because if the local people find out where our food is, yeh, then it is a bit dangerous.”
He shares his experience of people’s spirit in northern Cebu: “They have prayers and then they’re cheering. It’s almost like there was no problem. It’s like a celebration for them in the midst of their agony – and it is agony; their lives are horrible. But, when we give them the cooked food, it is a big sunrise in their life for the time being.”
Donations and other offers of help for the relief effort have poured in from all over the world. The government estimates the total reconstruction cost at up to $6 billion.
Kurt Behringer, AMURT’s recovery specialist, led a team conducting an assessment of a more isolated area of the country out of the media spotlight. They landed by plane in Guiuan, in south-east Samar. It was here that the super-typhoon first made landfall.
Travelling up the coast through six towns, to Borongan, they documented very extensive destruction as far north as Balangkayan. The mayor of Salcedo reported 30 dead and in the Hernani area, which has 3 barangays (towns), housing was 100% devastated. Even concrete houses were beyond repair and often unrecognisable, with just a foundation remaining.
100% of the fishing boats were destroyed, threatening their local economies long term. Locals described three gigantic surge waves that came at the time of the typhoon, wiping out almost everything in their path.
AMURT is exploring ways to help these communities rebuild. Support for affected children, housing, and measures to restore local economic capacity are all urgently needed.
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