On the ground in the Philippines: It will be years until there’s even a semblance of normality for the people affected

Melanie Smith
typhoon 300x199 On the ground in the Philippines: It will be years until there’s even a semblance of normality for the people affected

Driving through Eastern Samar (c) Christian Aid / Melanie Smith

Driving through the streets of Tacloban, it was the smell that hit me first – the smell of death. Nearly two weeks after the cyclone struck, bodies were still being hauled from the rubble. Together with those in bags still lining the roads, they were putrefying in the damp heat. The city has been the focus for much of the media coverage of the relief effort, but the trail of devastation is far wider. Thousands of people across numerous islands are struggling to emerge from this living nightmare.

It’s now two weeks since Typhoon Haiyan first hit the Philippines, and it’s extremely apparent that it’ll be years until there’s even a semblance of normality for the people affected by the world’s largest ever storm to make landfall.

During the past week-and-a-half, I’ve travelled throughout the Haiyan-hit regions of Leyte, Iloilo and Eastern Samar with Christian Aid assessment teams, documenting the needs of those whose lives have been turned upside down.

Throughout the area, electricity pylons were torn down by the strength of the wind leaving cables hanging precariously across roads; coconut trees left snapped in half, their green luscious leaves now pathetic brown twigs; and concrete houses reduced to rubble. Electricity supply is not expected to return until January in some places and many phone lines are dead, leaving numerous people wondering if their relatives know they’re still alive.

Wiping tears from her cheeks, Sheilla Padrigano, who lives in Asgad, Eastern Samar – a once tranquil, picturesque tourist destination now bleak and barren – told me how she’s been unable to reach her husband.

She said: ‘My husband is still working in Bicol, and I can’t communicate with him as my mobile phone was washed away and I don’t know his number by heart. I haven’t spoken to him since the typhoon. I haven’t managed to tell him I’m ok.’

Eastern Samar was where the typhoon first made landfall, bringing strong winds and waves over ten feet high at around 4.30am. Taking local government warnings seriously, the 30-year-old evacuated to a safer house away from the shore with her two children the evening before. But unable to convince her parents to do the same, she was forced to leave them behind. When she returned once the water had subsided a few hours later, she found neighbours pulling their bodies from the rubble that was once their home.

‘They were found embracing where our kitchen used to be. I went and hugged them, I was hysterical,’ she continued.

‘I’d like to stay here, as it carries memories of my parents, but there are no materials here to be able to rebuild.

‘It still feels like a horrible dream. In a snap, we lost everything.’

Immediate needs are now food, water and shelter as the country deals with the aftermath. Christian Aid, through its local partner organisations, are now distributing food and household items, as well as shelter materials, aiming to reach 100,000 people in dire need.

But this will take years to get over. In some areas, 95 per cent of coconut trees have fallen – a key source of income for many, fishing boats destroyed and crops washed away. The next challenge will be how people can earn enough money to keep going.

I met Marina Acaylan, 70, who lives in Batad, Iloilo province, wandering along the shoreline where her simple, bamboo and mud home used to stand. She’d lived there for 32 years with her husband Kao, 74, where she made rice cakes for the local market. Kao helped fishermen haul in their catch to earn a meagre wage just to get by. Haiyan has left them with nothing.

She said: ‘When I saw our house was gone I cried and cried. Everything we rely on was washed away. My cooking pots, and the market too. I had bought the cooking pots and had paid little by little for them over a year or so, and they belonged all to me. I need them to make a living, what can I do now? I went looking for some in the water and managed to rescue one. I’m still searching the shoreline every day.’

Marina and Kao have managed to make a temporary shelter in a nearby public toilet, which survived the deluge of water, using a tarpaulin sheet. They now remove the husk from maize for a local producer, earning just 1p for every two kilos they get through.

Distributions of food, household items and shelter kits continue this week, but this is just the beginning of the task ahead.
Christian Aid is a member of the DEC, a collaboration of 14 agencies who are delivering aid to communities in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan.

To donate to the DEC Philippines Crisis Appeal visit

Read more eye witness accounts here

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