Evacuated Filipino storm survivors face uncertain future

by Thin Lei Win | @thinink | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 16 November 2013 15:00 GMT

Typhoon survivor Ricael Ebar Alcover poses for a picture at an evacuation centre sheltering victims of one of the biggest storms to have made landfall in Cebu, Philippines, Nov 16, 2013. Thomson Reuters Foundation/ Thin Lei Win

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Hundreds of people have been boarding numerous military and civilian flights at Tacloban airport for the past few days. Hundreds more have fled on ferries and cargo ships

CEBU, Philippines (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ricael Ebar Alcover felt a sharp pain in his left leg as he hid under a dining table while super storm Haiyan raged around him. The windows of his one-storey wooden home in central Philippines shattered under the force of the winds and a large shard of glass pierced his knee.

It was only on Saturday morning, eight days later, that his injury was finally treated. A team of Taiwanese doctors gave him an injection and bandaged the wound after he arrived at an evacuation centre in Cebu, about 250 kms (155 miles) away. He and nine relatives had spent nearly 24 hours on a cargo ship from Tacloban city, which bore the brunt of the storm.

"There were no hospitals and nobody to treat me," Alcover said, sitting on a plastic chair waiting to be registered with the authorities. "So I just took amoxicillin," he told Thomson Reuters Foundation, referring to the well-known antibiotic drug.

There were also no food and no home. The storm washed away Alcover's house and his half-hectare vegetable farm, he said.

"We ate bananas from the trees that had fallen and drank water from the sea. It wasn't clear but we drank it to survive," he added.

Hoping to find a job and a place to stay, Alcover came to Cebu, the nearest major city from his storm-ravaged hometown, where a brother lives.

"If my injury is healed and Tacloban is safe again, we can go back," he said wistfully. He shrugged when asked when he expects that to happen.

Alcover's plight reflects that of the thousands of people who were evacuated from storm-hit coastal towns in the aftermath of one of the world's most powerful typhoons.

Using various modes of transport, people have been leaving in droves from Tacloban as well as neighbouring towns and villages. Cebu and the capital Manila are the main destinations.

UNKNOWN FUTURE

Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, hit central Philippines on Oct 8 with such force it flattened villages and wiped out entire communities. Survivors spoke of tsunami-like waves hitting the town three times.

Three million people have been displaced from their homes according to the latest United Nations report. The Red Cross say the preliminary number of missing as of Friday stands at 25,000.

Dindo Herida, 42, waited for four days at heavily-damaged Tacloban airport with his wife and two young sons to get to Cebu. They slept among the debris, shared a small amount of water and subsisted on biscuits.

They finally arrived in Cebu on Saturday morning on a military flight, exhausted, hungry and thirsty. At an evacuation centre in Tinago near Cebu port, they received food, water and medical attention.

"We are so lucky we live near a hill. We rushed up there when the storm struck and that's how we survived," said Herida, who worked at Tacloban's security services.

But their house and belongings were all gone prompting Herida to try his luck in Cebu where he has relatives. Not knowing how long the family would be displaced and dependent on relatives worries him.

"We cannot decide now when we will go back," Herida said. "Maybe I can find another job. Then we can stay here and survive."

HAPPY TEARS

It is unclear how many people have left the storm-affected areas so far. Hundreds of people have been boarding numerous military and civilian flights at Tacloban airport for the past few days. Hundreds more have fled on ferries and cargo ships.

At Cebu port, some people were heading to the disaster zone, bringing cartons of food and water for relatives. Others were arriving in Cebu and happy tears were shed as family members found and embraced each other.

Joy arrived with her three children, husband and mother-in-law on a passenger ship from Hilongos, another town in the same province as Tacloban. She lost 10 relatives in the storm, including her mother who survived the typhoon but was killed when a block of wood hit her head as she went to check the damage done.

"I have no more tears to cry," said the wife of a government officer, who declined to give her last name. She did cry, however, when her surviving sister turned up with her children on another ship.

Not everyone is so lucky and not everyone has a place to stay upon arrival.

Seventy-two-year-old Rohilio Acala and his wife Marites, 43, have been at the Tinago centre with their teenage children for three days. They do not know anyone in Cebu.

They have relatives in Manila but cannot afford the 1,300 pesos (about $30) boat fare to the capital for each of them.

"We don't have money so we're asking the government to sponsor us. Until that happens, we have to stay here," Acala said.

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