While Yolanda survivors arrive in droves in Manila and Cebu, there are those who embark on a journey back to typhoon-ravaged areas to know about the fate of their families and kin. Will they find relief or sorrow when they arrive in their hometown?
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — For the first time in 13 years, Dexter Alba, 33, was going back to his hometown in Dulag, Leyte. It would have been a joyous occasion to bond with his cousins and friends, that is, If only he was not going back to check on his family, whom they have lost contact with, after Typhoon Yolanda wreaked havoc on the coastal towns of Leyte.
“We had not been successful in our attempts to contact our family there. My mother, who lives with me in Cavite, is worried. She is hurting. She knows that there is a possibility that her siblings might already be dead. But at least we should be able to find their bodies,” Alba told Bulatlat.com.
Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) was one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall. It had sustained winds of 315 kph and gusts of 380 kph, affecting many provinces in the eastern Visayas region.
The Citizen’s Disaster Response Center said in its report that Typhoon Yolanda affected about 982,252 families or about 4.4 million people in 1,741 barangays in 343 municipalities and 39 cities in 36 provinces. It also displaced 101,762 families or about 477,735 individuals. About 86,513 families or 403,503 persons are staying in 1,425 evacuation centers. Their houses were damaged if not completely destroyed.
Alba said he would look for her mothers’ siblings who are residing in Dulag and Tacloban City. Despite seeing, in news reports, the magnitude of devastation in the areas hit by the typhoon, he said he is still hopeful that he would find them safe and alive, especially his uncle Nortbeto Bantilan, 62, and his family who are residing in Tacloban City.
“From Cavite, we tried every means to find out what happened to them. We searched online through news websites. But we learned nothing about their fate. Their names are not in the missing list,” Alba said.
Food for their families
Alba brought with him four big bags that contained food for his family. On Nov. 13, he was able to contact his cousin in Biliran, Leyte who said that food and medicine are what they need the most.
“Children are getting sick. They have cough, colds and there are no medicines,” he added, “Hospitals are closed.”
With the four big bags he brought with him, Alba said, he was only able to bring four shirts for himself. He also had to pay an additional P3,600 ($83), which, he said, is more costly than his one-way airfare, because his baggage exceeded the airline limit.
Sixto Billeza, 41, too, was going back to his hometown MacArthur to bring food for his family. While his niece has already confirmed that his wife Angelita and their children are safe, he said, he needed to go home to check for himself.
“They might have survived the typhoon but they might die out of hunger. They do not have food and I want to make sure that they are okay,” Billeza said. He was told that they no longer have a house.
Elma, 32, was also worried about how her family in Tolosa, Leyte is faring. The last time they were able to communicate, she was told that they do not have food and that they are getting sick. The nearest hospital is either in Palo or in Tacloban City, which is about an hour’s drive away.
“We are used to experiencing typhoons. But Yolanda is something we were not prepared to deal with,” he added.
Billeza said he was not afraid of the reported looting in the Yolanda-affected areas. If people would block the public transport he would be riding, he would gladly give them what he had with him, saying that he understands that they are going hungry.
“Just as long as they leave some for my family,” he added.
More action from government
Billeza said he understands if the government is experiencing delays in distributing relief to the people because the country has gone from one tragedy to another, referring to the recent 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the Central Visayas region.
But for Alba, the government’s response to the needs of the people is too slow. He related that news reports revealed that relief goods sent via the military’s C130 have yet to be distributed. “It is just there at the airport.”
“There is a need for more manpower. A lot of cadavers are still in body bags, scattered along the streets,” he said.
Joanne Atibula, 25, said the people residing in their community in Calubian, Leyte are experiencing difficult times. She booked a flight to Cebu as soon as she saw in the news the severity of the damage caused by the typhoon. The people of Leyte, she added, are used to experiencing typhoons but Yolanda was far more destructive than what they have experienced before.
“Even before the typhoon, the people have been impoverished. How much more now that they lost everything? They have no money and no food,” Atibula said, adding that most of the residents there live by fishing and tending to coconut trees.
She said the coconut trees now look like sticks planted on the ground.