Sunday, February 2, 2014

When Disaster Strikes

The Philippines took some hard hits last year, starting with an abrupt earthquake that ripped through Bohol's fishing villages and historic cities.  Bohol Island is famous for the Chocolate Hills. Tarsier monkeys (the smallest primate on the planet), and some of the oldest cathedrals in the Philippines.  Several old, stone churches (dating back to the 16 c.) couldn't withstand the tremendous forces, were left to a pile of rubble after the quake.  Also, Cebu Island, just west of Bohol, was affected by the tremors.  Several buildings were shaken to the ground including; two hospitals and the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino.   Serious damages incurred on the Central Vasayan Islands will take years to rebuild.   Currently, the Philippines government and national cultural agencies are prioritizing the reconstruction and restoration for these national treasures.  Also, Habitat for Humanity has partnered with local organizations to build 4,000 homes in Bohol fishing villages and surrounding areas that were deeply affected by the earthquake.

Church of San Pedro Apostle in Loboc, Bohol badly damaged facade.  Photo courtesy Robert Michael Poole on

Church of San Pedro Apostle in Loboc, Bohol bell tower is now just a stump among the rubble.  Photo courtesy Robert Michael Poole on

Bohol Earthquake - October 15, 2013


This is what I felt:

I woke up to a train sound rumbling through the house. I quickly realized it was an earthquake. I immediately jumped out'a bed, woke up Hersley exclaiming 'earthquake, earthquake!', and ran outside in my pj's to safely greet my neighbors.  Learning later that day, a 7.2 Earthquake hit an island north of Dumaguete and sent rippling shocks to my bed that AM, registering at a 5.  There were aftershocks felt throughout the day coupled with a brown out.  Thankfully, no one I knew was hurt and Dumaguete City was standing strong and little damage to speak of.

Aftershocks continued weeks after the initial quake, keeping us all alert and on our toes.  The one thing I noticed throughout the whole ordeal, was how tired and disoriented I felt.  When mother earth's plates slip under your feet, it's an unsteady feeling, at the very least.  I imagine so much excess energy being released from the molten earth below and wonder what kind of deeper affect that has on my mind, body, and spirit.  It takes a while to settle back into feeling grounded and trust that the earth is solid under my feet.  Now, when I hear that distinct sound of rumbling like a train, my senses perk.  I wait to see if what I heard, or if the slight shake of a table or chair, is a beginning tremor to another serious quake.

Typhoon Yolanda - November 12, 2013

Not a month had passed and another national disaster made international headlines as the strongest typhoon to occur on the earth ever recorded.  High speed winds over 250 mph categorized this storm as Super Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda), struck the Central Vasayan Philippine Islands mid-day on November 12, 2013.  National weather alerts were announced days before, preparing everyone about the intensity and pathway of the storm.  Dumaguete City was part of the storm pathway, so we made sure that we had enough food, water, candles, and other necessities for three days as we didn't know what to expect.

When the storm finally did strike; the sky turned dark, the winds gathered and blew the bamboo flat to the ground, in large gusts, for the entire day.  It was the strongest windstorm in my life.  Having been raised in the Midwest, and a witness to a number of tornado and straight-line wind damages, I felt the Super Typhoon storm to be more intense.  Winds sounded like heavy trucks on the roof like a super highway.  There was so much debris, vegetation and scrap material both, flying about and crashing into other inanimate objects, which made it unsafe to be outside.  Unknowing if the roof was going to stay fastened, we just hunkered down in one room for the duration of the storm. But with all that uncertainty, Dumaguete City was spared unlike the tragedies on the islands Northeast of Negros.

Leyte, Tacloban City, and the surrounding areas were completely flattened from the high winds and flooded from the large waves brought by the storm.  It was reported that over 6,000 people lost their lives from Super Typhoon Haiyan.  I suspect fatalities, over the last months, have risen due to hunger, dehydration, infection and disease, and lack of shelter. Relief operations and immediate responders like, Red Cross and United Nations Humanitarian Aid, continue to stabilize, construct temporary bunkhouses, and clear the debris.  Although, due to the recent 'tropical depression', there has been much flooding and 1,400 temporary shelters have been damaged, leaving evacuation centers at risk, requiring relocation of displaced survivors and impairing progress (Sunstar News - February 1, 2014).  The Department of Social Welfare has reported around 26,000 displaced evacuees come from 'no-build' zones, which means the areas are prone to flooding.  The humanitarian agencies are partnering with local authorities to develop standards, shelter design, and beneficiary selection (Sunstar News - January 22, 2014).

This is a lot to chew for the people of the Philippines.  After the storm, Foundation University's Broadcasting crew and video/photo journalists lead a team of four to report the aftermath from Typhoon Haiyan.  You can view their ten minute video here: Yolanda Aftermath.  Below, are photos from their trip (courtesy of Markymark Besario).  Several times I have heard, from those returning from the disaster areas, that Filipinos still manage to find humor and smile through it all.

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