Asia-Pacific

Saturday 2 August 2014

Futile search for loved ones goes on

Published 15/11/2013|02:00

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A mother and her distraught son wait at Tacloban airport for a plane to airlift them to the capital
A little girl waits to be airlifted to Manila with her relatives

Millions in the typhoon-hit Philippines are homeless, and in Tacloban thousands are seeking refuge at the church of Irish priest Fr Aidan McMahon, who has been in the country for 35 years

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IN ALL of typhoon-hit Tacloban, there is only one church left with a roof intact. It was built by Irish missionaries. Now the spiritual successor to those who came to the Philippines to spread the gospel is helping to spread much-needed aid among the citizens.

Father Aidan McMahon says the scale of the disaster in the Philippines is comparable to the massive tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean in 2004.

His 1950s-built church is described as the "best organised" relief effort in the city. Millions are now homeless in the Philippines, and thousands in Tacloban are seeking refuge there with the priest from Listowel, who has been in the Philippines for 35 years.

Fr McMahon's colleagues counted nearly 40 dead bodies on the streets around their compound just before his interview with the Irish Independent, hammering home his point that decomposing corpses still litter the streets of Tacloban.

People cover their mouths and noses as they walk the streets searching for their loved ones. Many searches are proving futile.

Aid is so slow to arrive and be distributed that locals are scavenging on the streets for clothes and bits of food.

DISASTER

The Redemptorist priest said that Tacloban was one of 40 or so areas severely affected – and more than 12 of them have not even been visited by rescuers. Every area is without electricity.

The Irish Independent visited three towns on another island, Cebu, which was also hit. Thousands are homeless there and some of them told how they had not received any aid.

It is now day seven since the onset of Typhoon Haiyan – known locally as Yolanda. We found children screaming at passing cars for water and jumping up and down holding signs, simply saying "help".

In some incidences we were the first group of outsiders to visit since the disaster. While many lined the streets waiting for help to arrive, others had grown cynical aid would ever come.

The government in the Philippines has been asked by media "who's in charge?" but no definitive answer was given.

The stock response seems to be that whoever is put in charge will only be criticised.

The police officer who said that the death toll would be over 10,000 has been relieved of his post. Even though the death toll has been revised downwards, this is a great humanitarian disaster.

Vast numbers of people are homeless, there is a lack of clean water, and cholera and typhoid are fast becoming threats.

Fr McMahon also said looting and robbing are common in the abandoned towns around Tacloban because people have become very desperate with hunger and dehydration, as survivors "escaped with just their clothes on their back".

The basic needs are food, water and medicine.

If donating to aid agencies, they would prefer if you donate online so they can get supplies out in the Philippines, and no time is wasted in shipping.

Fr McMahon says the Filipinos are a very "joyful, hopeful" people.

SHELTER

Their reserves will be tested to the limit, but some are already starting recovery efforts themselves, and beginning to rebuild their homes.

A GOAL aid worker will travel to his hometown on Leyte Island today, where he is hoping to see his mother for the first time since Typhoon Haiyan ripped through her neighbourhood last weekend.

Raul Liba Stida, who joined GOAL's emergency team in Dublin this week as a medical volunteer, has not spoken to his mother (75), or his brother and his family, for seven days.

"About 70-80pc of the homes on (my mother's) street have been destroyed, so there are other families using my mother's house for shelter. One group, including two elderly ladies, are sheltering in the porch," said Mr Stida.

"They are in trouble over there. . . They badly need food and medicine," he added.

The first batch of GOAL supplies were dispatched from the agency's base on Cebu Island this morning and will reach affected families in Tacloban and Ormoc city on Leyte today.

The GOAL supplies include food, such as rice and noodles, and non-food items like plastic sheeting, blankets and buckets. Other distributions are planned for the coming days.

by Joyce Fegan

Irish Independent

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