Philippines typhoon update…

Fr Gus O’Driscoll works in the Good Shepherd Parish in Manila, Philippines. Along with our Filipino SMA priests he has been working, since last November, to assist some of those whose lives were affected by Typhoon Haiyan. SMA supporters in Ireland have been to the forefront in providing financial help to provide for the material needs of the people in two parishes the SMA ‘adopted’ in Leyte. A recent email from Fr Gus tells us of the present situation in one of them.

Destroyed-homes

Dear Friends

Greetings from Good Shepherd Parish, Manila!

I arrived back last evening from a three day visit to the island of Leyte, specifically to the city of Tacloban, and the towns of Palo and Tanauan, the three places that where most devastated by typhoon Haiyan on November 8 last year. Almost 4,500 people lost their lives in those three places alone. I went with Fr. German, my SMA colleague here in the parish, to visit his family. Their home and those of his siblings were badly damaged by the typhoon. Both his parents have suffered strokes in the past six months, but have recovered reasonably well; both will celebrate their 80th birthdays in 2015.

Landing at Tacloban airport at midday on Tuesday, the center of world media attention in those terrible days in mid November, the initial impression is of a place recovering, albeit rather slowly. Some of the buildings have been repaired, others still with on-going roof construction. Driving from the airport, one sees lots of white tents – UNHCR, Red Cross, CRS, Oxfam, Korean Army etc. Most of the damage has been to the roofs of buildings. Some commercial establishments are now operating again, others still under repair. One shopping mall still looks like it was the day after the typhoon, a crumpled mass of concrete and metal. It will have to be completely re-built – whenever? But generally there is life and vibrancy in the downtown area.

Fr. German’s village / barangay is along the national road between Tacloban and Palo. There are four homes, of parents and siblings, in their 280 sq. meter compound. One building withstood the severity of the storm, with partial damage to the roof. The other three are now being re-built, from the ground up. The presence of the children of the four families brings life and joy to the compound. In the late afternoon we walked along the waterfront of the Pacific Ocean. It was calm, with lots of young people around. I recalled being here 13 years ago at the time of German’s ordination. A group of us from Manila stayed at the McArthur hotel. Close to the shoreline, it has been battered, almost beyond repair. This is the historic spot where Gen. Douglas McArthur came ashore to help defeat the Japanese forces in World War II.

Wednesday morning – we visited the cathedral, other churches, community centers, public library etc. All these structures are now having their roofs completely replaced. Almost every building of two floors or higher lost their roof.

The graves of some of the victims, note how many young people among them.

We walked down to the port area to see the large cargo vessel that was washed up onto the shore, destroying many small buildings in its way. You may recall seeing images of this boat on TV. It was laden with 5,000 bags of cement at the time. In fact there are two other cargo boats nearby, similarly washed onto the shore. Families have put up their temporary dwellings alongside. In spite of the great poverty they live under, the children continue to smile and laugh and play.

Beached-ship

In the afternoon we visited some sites where hundreds of victims have been buried. One is in the cathedral compound, another in the space in front of a parish church. The parish priest told us that on the Sunday morning, two days after the typhoon, they buried 108 victims in small graves, side-by-side. Tyhoon-victims-gravesEach grave is marked by the names on little wooden crosses, some accompanied by photos on tarpaulin. About 80% were school children, unable to escape the storm surge and tidal waves. Some three, four, five from the same family. So deeply poignant, so sad.

The graves of some of the victims, note how many young people among them.

On our way home we visited the barrio of Candahug, where many of German’s relatives live. Just about 200 meters from the shoreline, it has been almost completely wiped out; only three buildings remained standing. While most of the women and children were evacuated onto higher ground closer to the town center the day before the typhoon struck, some of the men and teenage boys chose to stay to protect their little homes. The names of 149 victims are posted on a tarpaulin at the entrance of their barrio chapel. The families have now returned to stay in temporary dwellings. We met the officers of their barrio/village cooperative to see how we can extend further assistance. I listened to the stories of Ms. Imelda, Mylene and Lucy, how they managed to escape and survive. Even their evacuation center, a large gymnasium, had its roof blown in (still visible for all to see), so they had to run from that place also. The story of Lucy is beyond imagination. Only a woman of great inner strength and faith could have managed to survive. Miraculous indeed.

Thursday – I spent time with German’s family. One of the grandchildren was having her graduation from college in the afternoon, so there was excitement and joy among the family. My flight back to Manila was mid afternoon.

Impressions and thought from my three day visit. Six months on from that fateful day in November, it is easy to see that the destruction has been massive – loss of lives, families traumatized, buildings and infrastructure damaged, some beyond repair. But it is good to see many young men now employed in the re-construction of buildings, roads and bridges. The resilience of the people shines through, putting their lives back together.

Memorial-stoneIn the months of November and December our focus as SMA and Good Shepherd Parish was in sending relief goods to the most affected areas – food, clothing and medicines. By January, with the beginning of the dry season, our financial assistance to the families and parish was for repair and construction. In March we sent a team of doctors, dentists and nurses for a two day medical and dental mission to two remote barrios within the jurisdiction of the parish of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, German’s home parish. Attention has now turned to livelihood; we have been able to purchase tricycles and pedicabs so that the fathers of families will have a source of income. And we are now planning to assist in the revival of the barrio cooperative in Candahug.

The names of 143 victims from one parish are recorded on a Memorial Stone. May they rest in peace.

The families that I spoke with during my visit have asked me to express their gratitude to all of you for your kindness and generosity, your donations to the SMA Calamity Fund set up in Blackrock Road last November, and which has been transferred to our bank account here in Manila. Your Christian solidarity with those who have suffered is greatly appreciated.

God bless. Fr Gus O’Driscoll SMA

Those wishing to help the ongoing work in Leyte click here.