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Filipinos are still picking up the pieces

07 February 2014

PHOTOS: TIM WYATT

Enduring: the distribution of food and clean water continues to be needed

Enduring: the distribution of food and clean water continues to be needed

THREE months after the largest storm ever to hit land, Typhoon Haiyan, devastated the Philippines, some Filipinos have begun to rebuild their lives.

The area around the city of Tacloban, on the central island of Leyte, bore the full force of the 195-mph winds on 7 November ( News, 8 November). The storm surge brought raging waters up to one kilometre inland, and powerful winds flattened buildings across the town and surrounding villages.

But, with the help of a host of aid agencies, many communities survived the ordeal, and have begun to get back to normality.

A mother of three, Carine Opiniano, from the fishing village of Old Kawayan, near Tacloban, said that her house was completely destroyed when Haiyan struck.

"My baby was three months old when the typhoon hit," she said on Tuesday. "He fell and hit his head while we tried to evacuate to the mountains. We were praying hard that we would be able to survive. The children still feel scared any time it is raining and it is a strong wind."

Mrs Opiniano and her family still have to live with a relative on the hill above her shattered village.

The charity World Vision arrived in the days after the storm hit, providing water-hygiene kits for the village. Its supply of clean water was knocked out by the typhoon.

Her children are back at school, thanks to a tent and materials from the aid agency. Three months later, World Vision were still distributing jerry cans and water-purification tablets.

"Whenever there is relief food, I am happy, because we really need it," Mrs Opiniano said. "My husband couldn't work until yesterday, so we had no income and were totally dependent on aid."

The marks of Haiyan were obvious across the island. In many places, more than half the homes consisted of propped-up debris covered in blue tarpaulin roofs. Hundreds of thousands of coconut trees had been felled.

More than 5000 people died in the Tacloban area, and Sean Ng, a local programme manager with World Vision, said that some 80,000 people were still living in the evacuation centres. The majority of schools were destroyed, along with Tacloban Airport's main terminal building.

But there are signs of life returning to the town. Debris is starting to be cleared, the dead have been buried, and small businesses such as taxis, and even an Italian restaurant, have reopened. "The improvement in Tacloban and surrounding areas has been remarkable," Mr Ng said.

In almost every village and town, the word "Help" had been spray-painted in huge letters on to the road or buildings. But alongside these marks of desperation were carefully painted signs thanking aid agencies and international donors for their support.

When the typhoon hit the town of Dulag, the winds were so strong that a 30-metre-tall steel telecoms mast was bent in two. One family have taken to sheltering in one of the smashed giant satellite dishes that now rest on the ground.

Shierreann Senasi's home was also torn from its foundations in Dulag. "There was a big wind like a tornado, and one big wave," she said. "I was hugging my entire family and the house was shaking. It was totally washed away. The water came up to my waist. I was praying 'Papa Jesus - please stop the storm.'"

Whenever it rains, water pours into the makeshift shack she has built next to the ruins of her houses. The whole town's fishing boats were destroyed in the storm, so she has no income, and is totally reliant on aid to survive.

Even as she spoke, however, government workers were restoring the electricity supply to the town. World Vision will also soon begin to deliver the necessary materials and training so that the locals can begin to rebuild their damaged homes.

The loss of livelihood is a common theme around Tacloban. Apart from the swept-away fishing boats, coconut farmers said that so many trees had been felled they had no way to earn any money. In the coastal town of Tanauan, a large oil factory was gutted by the typhoon, cutting off employment and wages for most of the town.

A UN programme is attempting to tackle this problem by paying jobless Filipinos to work clearing debris, and rebuilding damaged infrastructure.

Mr Ng said that World Vision's focus was now shifting from emergency relief to assisting recovery. But the challenge for the authorities and the aid agencies to support the Philippines to bounce back from Haiyan remains vast.

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