Just over a week ago, Haiyan, one of the deadliest typhoons in history, brought catastrophic destruction to the Philippines, particularly the central islands of Leyte and Samar. Aid from various nations and organizations was quickly administered to the worst affected areas, especially the city of Tacloban. Due to major damage to transportation systems within the country, the relief efforts have been hindered in reaching other affected parts of the country, including the province Bayes, where Arlene grew up. In an exclusive interview for VRGDT, she speaks about how the disaster affected her hometown San Fernando, and how her family survived the natural disaster.
Arlene’s hometown San Fernando is situated in the province of Basey, which is located on Western Samar. As it is a coastal city, one of the most common occupations in San Fernando is fishing, but Arlene also mentions farming as an important occupation and tells about the kind of crops that are typical for her province: sweet potato, sweet corn, rice and even coconuts. The subtropical climate provides perfect conditions for fruits such as bananas and avocados to grow in the backyard of the typical household in San Fernando. Arlene picks up her phone to show me some pictures of a traditional craft in Samar, a sort of palm tree leaf mat, woven into a colorful geometric pattern. Next, she shows me a picture of the house where she grew up in, a robust stone house painted with colors as vibrant as those in the traditional Bayes-woven mat. The next picture on her cell phone is also a picture of her house. Or to be more precise, where her house used to be. Today there is just a pile of debris left of her childhood home. She continues to show me pictures from the island, all showing the vast destruction which the typhoon caused on San Fernando. Looking at these photos is surreal; it is the kinds of pictures that you only see in the news. At the same time, seeing these photos from Arlene’s family, taken with a cell phone camera, makes the crisis much more tangible.
About a week before the typhoon reached Basey, Arlene’s family had heard on the news that a big storm was approaching the Philippines. As they lived right by the ocean, Arlene’s family felt the need to evacuate. They packed the necessities and travelled to Arlene’s grandmother who lives farther away from the coast. Since tropical storms are not unusual in the Philippines, Arlene thinks that her family did not realize the severity of Haiyan. At their relative’s house, they were able to contact Arlene in Sweden through Skype, telling her that they were in safety. Communications via internet, phone and radio worked well in Basey, until Haiyan eventually struck the province. The whole island of Samar suffered from an electrical power failure, which meant no possibility for communication.
There is a great need for water, food, shelter and medicine for the victims of Haiyan. Help from other countries, such as the U.S and Japan, and many help organizations were quick to aid the inhabitants of Tacloban. However, the need for immediate help is still widespread through the nation, creating a logistical challenge as relief efforts strive to reach all provinces affected by Haiyan. Unfortunately, Basey is one of those provinces, and Arlene’s family has not yet received any aid from the foreign help organizations. The situation seems to be rather desperate in San Fernando, but there is a ray of hope. Civilians from the neighboring island Manila, which was not affected by the storm, have come to help their fellow countrymen. Many of these residents originally come from San Fernando, and take a 24 hour bus ride to reach the city. Once there, they provide the inhabitants of San Fernando with necessities such as water and food. Not only do the residents of Manila provide the inhabitants of San Fernando with basic necessities, but they also act as a means of communication. Through a relative from Manila, Arlene has received reports that her family is alright after the typhoon.
As one can see from footage from newscasts and from Arlene’s pictures, that entire communities have been left in ruins, and most victims have lost everything in the storm. Arlene is not sure what her family plans to do now they have survived Haiyan. Right now, most people are just trying to find lost family members and get hold of basic supplies in order to get through the day. What Arlene knows for sure, though, is that her family will have to start over. Due to the frequent occurrence of typhoons, Arlene mentions that some people are considering building their houses from wood rather than out of more stable material like cement. When not even robust houses like the one of Arlene’s family could resist Haiyan, it is understandable that building a weaker and less expensive house is a realistic alternative, but it must be a strange reality to adjust to.
According to OCHA, there are over 13 million people in the Philippines who have been affected by the storm. A week has gone since the catastrophe happened, but many victims are still in need of water, food, shelter and medicine. If you would like to help the relief efforts to bring back the society in the Philippines to some degree of normalcy, these are some organisations you could make a donation to:
Samtliga bilder som inte är CC licenserade tillhör Arlene Macatalad. Tillstånd har givits för att använda dessa i artikeln.