Side by Side Philippines Update: 'We are survivors'

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Imagine the strongest storm you’ve ever known and then multiply it many times over. Imagine winds so powerful that they knock down concrete houses. Imagine shouting prayers at the top of your voice, but not being able to hear what’s coming out of your mouth over the howling wind.

When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in November, ten-year-old Honeyrea was taking shelter in a gymnasium on Leyte island, along with her family and other members of the community. It was an experience she will never forget.

“Many people were there, and it was nearly full,” she told me in her quiet voice. “We said a lot of prayers. We said Our Father and prayed the rosary.”

The noise of the storm was terrifying, but worse was to follow when water started pouring into the building. “There were big waves,” Honeyrea remembered. “The water came up to my waist. It happened in less than a minute and it was rising fast. We had to run upstairs. I couldn’t stop crying, because my mother was left downstairs.

“Then, the roof of the gym fell through. I was blank for three minutes. My father was talking to me, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying.”

Honeyrea and her father stayed upstairs in the gymnasium for the entire day, exposed to the pouring rain and howling wind, while waiting for the waters below them to recede. When it was finally safe to come out, they found their home destroyed and most of their possessions washed away. But the overriding emotion of that moment was joy: Honeyrea’s mother had survived.

Many others were not so fortunate. About 200 metres from the tent where Honeyrea’s family now lives, there is a mass grave where more than 1,000 people are buried.

Saving lives after the storm

Typhoon Haiyan was one of the strongest storms ever to hit land, with winds of up to 171 miles per hour. But much of the damage on Leyte island was caused by the ‘storm surge’: huge debris-filled waves of water speeding inland, washing away houses, roads and water-supply systems.

Thanks to your donations to our Philippines Typhoon Haiyan appeal, our Church partners were able to start delivering food, water and emergency supplies within hours of the typhoon striking. In a country where 80 per cent of the population is Catholic, the Church played a vital role, providing aid quickly in some areas that the Filipino government couldn’t reach for days.

A disaster like Typhoon Haiyan is bad enough in itself, but if survivors don’t have access to clean water and sanitation, diseases like cholera and typhoid can spread extremely quickly – and you can have two disasters in one.

That’s why, shortly after the disaster, we worked with our partner Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to install a ‘water bladder’ – an inflatable plastic tank, filled with water – near where Honeyrea and her family were staying.

Thanks to the water bladder, Honeyrea has clean water to drink. “It’s important to drink clean water so you don’t get sick,” she told me. “I am very thankful for the water. It tastes delicious.”

Thanks to the quick work of CAFOD and other agencies, there have been no serious outbreaks of disease since the typhoon. It will take the people of the Philippines years to recover completely from one of the strongest storms in history, but your compassion is helping thousands of families like Honeyrea’s not only to survive, but to start again.

Thanks to your remarkable generosity, our Philippines Typhoon Haiyan appeal has raised more than £5 miLtion.

With your help, we hove:

  • supported local church volunteers in providing food, shelter and emergency kits to thousands of people immediately ofter the tgphoon

  • set up and regularly refilled 17 water bladders, providing safe drinking water to thousands of families

  • provided 50,000 people with hygiene kits, including soap and water purification tablets to help prevent the spread of disease

  • delivered food, shelter and ernergencg kits to remote islands using local fishing boats

  • started to help people rebuild permanent homes and schools and to make a living again.