Disaster surprised them in their sleep – 77,000 persons affected

by Peter Pilz/SRA, 2011/12/23

Caused by the torrential rainfalls during typhoon Washi, an up to 10 metre high flood wave hit the region surrounding the Philippine town of Cagayan de Oro, as well as Iligan and other small villages in the south of Mindanao Island late in the evening of December 17. Another 39 communities in eight major towns are also affected by the devastation and destruction.

As there usually are no typhoons in this region, many of the about 77,000 affected persons were surprised in their sleep by the nightly flood wave. humedica coordinator Peter Pilz reports from the disaster region.

Immense devastation and destruction were caused by typhoon Washi on Mindanao Island. Photo: humedica/Peter Pilz

“So far, this dramatic disaster has claimed the lives of 648 persons. 562 persons are still missing, and more than 55,000 people have in the meantime been evacuated from the affected regions.

Local evacuation centres such as churches, schools, or roofed gyms were already overcrowded only a few hours after the beginning of the flood.

Numerous affected, traumatised persons therefore have to be provided with blankets, mats, drinking water and food in their destroyed houses.

During the past few days I had various opportunities to accompany our partner organisation Operation Blessing and the responsible reverends from various parishes, and drive to those regions of the city of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan that have been affected worst. There we could gain some impressions of the extent of the disaster.

Countless houses in these regions have been destroyed completely, and therefore the bodies of those who died in the event could not even be recovered yet from the ruins.

In these regions we could only move about with face masks, since otherwise the smell of waste, mud, dirt and the penetrating smell of decaying bodies would have been unbearable.

At one of the reception camps we encountered about twenty children, who had lived through particularly terrible experiences.

When visiting this camp, the humedica team spontaneously decided to offer immediate help in the short term, by means of buying clothes, sleeping mats, blankets and shoes and by giving some support and hope to the children in particular.

Understandably, the children were rather shy in the beginning. But after they had gained some trust in us, some of them told us the stories of their fates. And so my attention was caught by 15-year old Jassimine, who was very sad and distant and also seemed to be traumatised.

Many of the affected persons try to retrieve whatever there is left to left to save. Photo: humedica/Peter Pilz

The girl had been swept away by the flood wave while she was sleeping and – you hardly can believe it – when she recovered consciousness once more she was on a completely different island, about 200 kilometres from her home. There, far away from her home, she could be rescued.

Her father died during the disaster, her mother is too poor to afford a treatment at hospital. Her eight-year old brother Jerryco could be saved by neighbours, after he had been swept onto other destroyed houses.

Also 17-year old Lin has lived through a particularly traumatic experience. She was buried by the rubble of their house. Trapped by the water, she could only be rescued, because the doors to the space she was in could be kicked in and opened.

When she told us her story, the tears were streaming down her face. How long is it possibly going to take until these children will have come to terms with their experiences, until their souls will have healed once more?

These are only three stories that were written by this disaster. Every single one of the 77,000 affected persons have their own fate. We could probably tell 77,000 different stories about them, if all of them could tell us of their experiences.

What we notice in particular, is the fact that most of the people accept their fate without complaints or lamentations. They take care of their few possessions by trying to clean, scrub and wash those things they still have and that can still be used.

And they always keep up their smiles. However, when you press the issue, they stop pretending and many of the traumatised, affected persons show emotions that they just do not let show openly, due to their Asian way of life.

In the meantime, however, you can also observe first clearing works implemented by hundreds of police men and several private organisations. Streets are being cleared and, if possible, mud and dirt are removed from the houses’ entrances.

In numerous parts of the city, the population is supplied with drinking water by a water tanker. For many, this is the first opportunity in days to wash and to retrieve some of their dignity.

The immense flood waves swept away everything in their way. Photo: humedica/Peter Pilz

A great willingness to help can be perceived also among the population. Honorary assistants of various Christian organisations are busy with putting together small sets of donated relief goods, such as water bottles, rice, bread and other food, mats, blankets, clothes, as well as wok pans and bowls.

These so-called “starter kits” are distributed to needy persons at reception camps in the affected areas and are intended to help them with a new beginning.

Among the assistants are also persons who were themselves affected by the disaster, but who were fairly lucky and now want to help those who have been affected worse.

Yesterday evening, almost one week after this terrible typhoon disaster, it rained for the first time again in this region, and hence many people got nervous and were afraid of having to spend the nights in their already completely destroyed houses and at reception camps, as the terrible memories of everything they had gone through suddenly returned.”

Today, another humedica doctor team, headed by Prof. Dr. Heiner Laube (Gießen), set out for the disaster region, where they will arrive on Christmas Eve in order to offer medical treatment to those affected.

Dear friends and sponsors, please help us to stay at the side of those affected in the Philippines also during the Christmas days.

      humedica e. V.
      Donation reference “Flood relief Philippines
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

You can also make a donation via our online form, or by means of sending a text message: send a text message containing the reference DOC to +49 8 11 90. By doing so you will make a donation of 5 euros, with 4.83 euros of this amount being directly channelled into the humedica disaster relief projects.

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