Hope is born amid Philippine disaster zone


“I could not help but be touched as the proud new parents looked at their baby swathed in a soiled cloth. They asked if I wanted to hold her, but I refused; I had been out among the dead and probably covered in all sorts of bacteria.”

AFP Manila correspondent Jason Gutierrez traveled to the devastated city of Tacloban where he found hope amid the rubble.

Baby Beatriz Joy. (AFP Photo / Jason Gutierrez)

Baby Beatriz Joy is born at a makeshift medical center in the storm damaged central Philippine city of Tacloban on November 11 2013.




By Jason Gutierrez


Blood trickled down the pregnant woman's legs as she hobbled to a destroyed building converted into a makeshift medical center, sheer determination on her face, to deliver her first baby in the care of military doctors.

It was one of those days when you just knew that however grim the situation on the ground is, there would always be that one story that makes all the hard work worthwhile.

The story of Emily Sagalis, 21, and her husband, Jobert, encapsulates the resilience of the Filipino people. No matter what happens, they will soldier on even on the brink of death. Even as fate told them they should be dead.

Thousands of people, including the couple's relatives and friends, were killed when towering waves stirred by Super Typhoon Haiyan crashed into coastal towns and villages across Leyte last Friday, November 8. People here are used to storms, and despite warnings that Haiyan was turning out to be the world's strongest typhoon to hit land this century, many just battened down the hatches to ride it out.

Tacloban, in the Philippines, three days after Super Typhoon Haiyan (AFP Photo / Noel Celis)

Tacloban, in the Philippines, three days after Super Typhoon Haiyan (AFP Photo / Noel Celis)

Few were prepared for the worst. Within minutes of hitting land, entire communities had been erased from the map, men, women and children -- entire neighbourhoods -- floated among the debris, their cries drowned out by the howling winds, survivors said.

Emily Sagalis knew she was days from giving birth to her first child. What should have been a cause of celebration turned into a nightmare. She and her husband were swept away from their bed, swirling violently among the waves as it wended its way through a wide area. She said she last saw her mother crying as she was carried away.

But as miracles go, the couple found each other after the water subsided, and still dazed and confused, drifted to a partially standing structure that used to be the community school. They survived on bottled water they found among the dead and the debris for three days, along with dozens of other people.

Early on Monday, November 11, as the scale and magnitude of the disaster made worldwide headlines, Sagalis went into labour. The couple trudged on muddy roads littered with debris and dead people to get to the airport compound, where the military had set up an improvised medical facility inside a wrecked building -- the only one for miles.

A passerby searching for his own missing family picked them up on a truck he had salvaged from somewhere, just in time as the baby was about to come out.

Medical workers tend to Emily Sagalis shortly after she gave birth inside a destroyed building in the central Philippine city of Tacloban on November 11, 2013. (AFP Photo / Jason Gutierrez)

First-time mother Emily Sagalis gives birth on the dirty, debris ridden floor of the makeshift medical center. (AFP Photo / Jason Gutierrez)

"She is my miracle. I had thought I would die with her still inside me when high waves came and took us all away," she told me as her teary eyed husband, Jobert, tightly held her hand as they sprawled on the dirty floor among the debris and blood she had discharged moments after giving birth.

I could not help but be touched as the proud new parents looked at their baby swathed in a soiled cloth. They asked if I wanted to hold her, but I refused; I had been out among the dead and probably covered in all sorts of bacteria. I did not want to add to the infection she may probably get from the unsterile surroundings where she’d been born.

There is a certain way that babies pull the heart strings, and witnesses a birthing this way was a welcome reminder that amid the misery, life will always find a way.

The story’s headline called her a miracle baby. Emily settled for Bea Joy, in honour of her missing mother Beatriz.

I call her Hope.