‘Yolanda’ horror still grips survivors 1 year after
For the survivors, the horror of the tragedy lingers one year after.
Cristita Batica, 62, a resident of Sitio (settlement) Payapay in the district of San Jose in Tacloban City, panics every time she hears news on radio of an approaching weather disturbance.
“I really don’t know what to do. I panic. I cannot sleep. I ask my children and grandchildren to pack up our things and evacuate to a safe place,” Batica said.
Her family is still staying in a tent pitched less than 30 meters away from the sea in a place where more than 300 people died at the height of Super Typhoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) on Nov. 8 last year.
Yolanda, the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines and the most powerful to hit land on record globally, smashed into Leyte province with top wind speeds of 300 kilometers per hour, generating giant storm surges that flattened entire communities across the Visayas.
The typhoon left 6,268 people dead, 28,689 injured and 1,061 missing, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
It also destroyed or damaged 1,034,518 houses and displaced an estimated 4 million people.
Gov’t’s promise of help
Batica’s family is just one of more than 300 families still living in tents in Payapay. Yolanda had destroyed their houses, and a year after they are still waiting for the promised government assistance in rebuilding their homes.
“We have been hearing about that on radio for months now. But almost a year after Yolanda, it remains a promise,” Batica said. “I hope our government is sensitive enough to listen to our pleas. We are poor. We cannot afford to buy materials to build a house.”
On Oct. 29, President Aquino finally approved an 8,000-page, P171-billion rehabilitation and recovery master plan for the 14 provinces in six regions devastated by Yolanda.
It is hoped that the approval of the plan will hasten the recovery of shattered communities and lives in those regions.
The survivors are trying to get back on their feet, but the road to their lives’ return to normality is still a long and winding one.
For the families of those who remain missing, closure is elusive.
In Tacloban City, Leyte, 607 are still missing, according to the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (CDRRMC).
Edilbrando Bernadas, the council officer, said his office had hoped to recover all those who died. “There is still an effort to recover the remains of those who died. In fact, 12 skeletal remains were recently discovered in San Jose,” he said.
In Iloilo province, the family of Analyn Bansin of Barangay (village) Botongon, Estancia town, also packs up their valuables whenever there is a storm coming.
“We don’t sleep and we are ready to evacuate,” Bansin said.
Irma Igot of the nongovernment organization (NGO) Balay Rehabilitation Center said survivors showing signs of trauma needed counseling and to open up for them to overcome their experiences.
“But the much talked about resiliency of the people was a big factor why they appear to easily overcome the trauma unlike Westerners,” Igot said.
But the trauma could linger, she said, especially among those families still living in tents or bunkhouses.
“The uncertainties about where they will go only add to their [trauma],” she said.
At least 4,114 families are still living in bunkhouses in the hardest-hit areas in Leyte, Samar and Eastern Samar provinces, according to the Eastern Visayas office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that at least 800,000 survivors might have suffered various levels of mental health problems.
These include depression, hallucinations, excessive anxieties, social withdrawal, changes in eating or sleeping habits, strong feelings of anger, substance abuse, excessive complaints of physical ailments, frequent outbursts of anger, hyperactivity, persistent nightmares and frequent temper tantrums, according to the WHO report.
The government also needs to find suitable land and resources to relocate tens of thousands of residents living in danger zones.
In Iloilo alone, about 43,000 coastal residents still need to be relocated, according to Mariano Cordero, provincial coordinator for the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Recovery and Rehabilitation (Oparr).
Despite massive donations from the private sector and the release of funds from the government, many survivors still need assistance, according to NGOs.
“There are some communities that have received minimal assistance. Survivors still need help, especially shelter and livelihood,” said Armie Almiro, executive director of the Panay Center for Disaster Response (PCDR) Inc.
The PCDR is currently implementing rehabilitation programs, including shelter assistance, livelihood, food distribution and educational assistance in the provinces of Aklan, Capiz, Iloilo and Antique in partnership with international donors such as Caritas International and Mercy Relief.
Frustrated rehab czar
The Oparr chief, Panfilo Lacson, admitted that the “challenges are still big,” with 1,012,000 houses damaged by the typhoon still needing to be repaired.
Lacson, a former senator, said the national government was working on increasing the shelter assistance from P30,000 to P70,000.
He expressed frustration at the lack of authority and resources of his office.
In a speech during the turnover of schools donated by Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. on Bantayan Island in Cebu in October, Lacson said his current post was the only job he was considering “resigning.”
“Why? God knows I want to do better and accomplish more. I am certain I could have done better and accomplish more if not for the restrictions of my mandate and the limitations of my office,” he said.
While Lacson holds a Cabinet-level rank, his office has only oversight and coordinating powers in the rehabilitation and recovery efforts.
Despite the challenges, Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez said he remained optimistic that the city could recover from the biggest disaster it had suffered since World War II.
“We can do this because of the help we receive from the international community and from our government,” he said.
Jomar Homola, a survivor in Sta. Fe in Bantayan town, Cebu province, said he would never forget how Yolanda taught him to struggle for his family’s survival and recovery.
Homola, 20, a pedicab driver, moved to a new house donated by Malteser International in Barangay Okoy on Oct. 20.
He shares the house with his wife, Madel, and their two children, Ivan, 5, and Mary Jane, 1.
Homola said that he continued to pray that no typhoon similar to Yolanda would hit their town.
“We may have waited for so long but I have never lost hope. I wake up every day and drive a pedicab in order to buy food and medicine. Now that we already have our own house, my family can live and sleep peacefully,” he said.
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