Today, I write from home.
I longed to write but didn’t have the chance to do so mainly because the infrastructure for internet connectivity wasn’t here for more than three (3) months. The world knows what happened to Tacloban City and the rest of the towns and provinces in Eastern Visayas when Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) struck in the morning of November 8, 2013. I lost contact with my family and it was the longest 96 hours of my life. The lack of access to internet aggravated the digital divide, diminishing our opportunity to connect and respond to potential donors and supporters.
What happened to my home?
My home is in the village of Guindapunan, one of the coastal communities of the town of Palo, 13 kilometers away from Tacloban in the province of Leyte. Our house is located 10 minutes brisk walk from the MacArthur beach, the site of the Leyte Landings along the gulf where the biggest naval battle in history happened in World War II. Supertyphoon Yolanda affected 41 towns in Leyte, took away hundreds of lives, destroyed more than 90% of the houses, closed down all business establishments and government offices, damaged our crops (mainly coconut and rice) and sources of livelihoods. It was a shocking, depressing and sorry state like we were hit by an atomic bomb.
My home city, Tacloban was in a worse state. Our office which was located along the shore was razed to the ground. All power, telecommunications, airport, markets, hospitals, schools and other urban infrastructure were immobilized. Ships went aground. Houses were flattened. Tacloban was cut off from the rest of the country for more than 24 hours. Help was not immediately available which forced homeless, roofless and hungry city folks to loot for food, water and clothing. Every remaining government and private space with a semblance of roof and wall turned into evacuation centers. Roads were covered with huge debris and hundreds of dead bodies were retrieved among the debris, waste and mud. The lack of food, safe drinking water, security, electricity, health services, communication and income caused the exodus of people to the cities of Samar, Cebu and Metro Manila.
The world listened when the news came out about the sorry state of Tacloban. The shed like airport hosted far more flights than it could during normal operations. It was like a war zone with military planes and helicopters bringing in uniformed personnel, medics, telecommunication engineers and media people. Curfew was imposed for weeks. There was no public transportation. The hospitals were taken over by volunteer medics from different parts of the Philippines and the world. Tent hospitals were set up in several towns. A Chinese Naval Hospital was stationed across Cancabatok Bay.
Generosity poured like no other. More than a hundred humanitarian organizations responded. People of different colors, faith and political persuasions, vocations and missions volunteered to help. We depended on them for food, clothing and shelter. They are helping us until now to recover our livelihoods, build our schools and churches and put roof over our heads.
The sun has been shining bright these days. Schools have opened. The markets are busy. The construction business is brisk. Prices of goods and services have doubled. The informal settlers went back to build their homes in the “no build/dwelling zone” due to uncertain and unclear government resettlement plans. Displaced people still live in tents. Widows, yes, there are about 126 Yolanda widows in my town alone. Widows still wondering how to make both ends meet and start a new life.
We now have electricity at home after three (3) months. We also have slower than turtle internet connection. With this better than nothing amenity, we can now talk about recovery, rehabilitation, reconstruction and disaster risk reduction over a cup of coffee and roscas.
Sisters, friends from all over, welcome to my home.