Philippine typhoon survivors cling to hope


AFP’s bureau chief in Manila, Karl Malakunas, recently returned to the central islands of the Philippines that were devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan to find out what had become of some of the survivors, including the women in this award-winning photo.

Super Typhoon Haiyan survivors (L-R) Virginia Piedad, Elsie Indic, Ma. Catalina Consuelo, and Maricel Martinez, pose February 16, 2014 for a photo along the road they marched down on November 18, 2013 (above). (AFP Photo/Philippe Lopez/Ted Aljibe)

Super Typhoon Haiyan survivors (L-R) Virginia Piedad, Elsie Indic, Ma. Catalina Consuelo, and Maricel Martinez, pose February 16, 2014 for a photo along the road they marched down on November 18, 2013 (above). (AFP Photo/Philippe Lopez/Ted Aljibe)




By Karl Malakunas


MANILA, March 19, 2014 --- In the frenzied aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan, a bewildered young woman gave birth amid rubble, a farmer's wife tried in vain to keep her husband alive with a hand pump, and a vegetable vendor marched through ruins while thanking God for sparing her.

Their stories were among the most compelling of AFP's initial coverage of the typhoon, which killed or left missing roughly 8,000 people as it tore across some of the poorest regions of the Philippines late last year.

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

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

The upper image in the combination photo above, by photographer Philippe Lopez, of the woman leading a religious procession through her devastated home town, won the spot-news category in the prestigious World Press Photo Awards, and was named by Time magazine as one of the top 10 photos of 2013.

I decided to track down the three women, hoping that reporting on what had happened to them since the typhoon would be an interesting way to illustrate the immense and enduring challenges for the millions of survivors.

Click here to view the video on a mobile device.

Elsie Indi, the devout Catholic, is still walking the streets with the same statue of Jesus Christ. Elsie and some of her neighbours have vowed to hold their procession at least twice a week for the rest of their lives, as a sacrifice to thank the Lord for allowing them to live.

In many ways, Elsie is indeed lucky. None of her relatives or neighbours died, and she quickly returned to work.

But the mother-of-four suffers extreme stress. She took out a 33-percent interest loan to buy fresh goods for her market stall.  The typhoon tore the roof of her home and, with her diabetic husband unable to work, she can not afford to repair it.

When I met Elsie, 42, she initially appeared stoic, smiling a lot and insisting her family was okay. But after I had spent the day with her, tears washed down her tired face as she begged during a final video interview: "We need money to rebuild our house, please help us."

This file photo taken November 15, 2013 shows Jennmifer Pulga checking keeping her husband alive by manualy pumping air into his lungs following his leg amputation that led to an infection. (AFP Photo/Philippe Lopez)

This file photo taken November 15, 2013 shows Jennmifer Pulga checking keeping her husband alive by manualy pumping air into his lungs following his leg amputation that led to an infection. (AFP Photo/Philippe Lopez)

Jennifer Pulga points to the site where her husband was hit by a falling coconut tree at a village in Jaro Town, Leyte province, February 17, 2014. (AFP Photo/Ted Aljibe)

Jennifer Pulga points to the site where her husband was hit by a falling coconut tree at a village in Jaro Town, Leyte province, February 17, 2014. (AFP Photo/Ted Aljibe)

Life for Jennifer Pulga, the woman (above) who watched her husband die in hospital, is even bleaker.

In a torrent of haunting post-typhoon images, AFP video journalist Diane Desobeau's footage of Jennifer standing in a chaotic hospital ward while using a manual ventilator to inflate the lungs of her husband was among the most haunting.

Jennifer kept Richard, who had been crushed by a falling coconut tree, alive with the pump for seven hours.

Now the 28-year-old widow lives with her two children and mother-in-law in an isolated farming village, relying almost entirely on relief agencies for food.

New life amid the destruction


In another part of the typhoon zone, first-time mother Emily Sagalis is equally reliant on aid, but she smiles much more.

AFP reporter Jason Gutierrez and video journalist Agnes Bun initially came across Emily as she was in labour on the floor of a destroyed airport building three days after the storm.

A doctor said then he feared Emily may die from seemingly inevitable infections.

But Emily, 21, and her daughter, Bea Joy are healthy. The first-time mother recounted a remarkable story of survival and I headlined her story: "Philippine typhoon mother rises from ruins".

This November 11, 2013 photo shows medical staff tending to Emily Sagalis shortly she gave birth inside a destroyed building in Tacloban. (AFP Photo/Jason Gutierrez)

This November 11, 2013 photo shows medical staff tending to Emily Sagalis shortly she gave birth inside a destroyed building in Tacloban. (AFP Photo/Jason Gutierrez)

On February 15, 2014, Emily Sagalis holds her child in the airport building where she gave birth. (AFP Photo/Ted Aljibe)

On February 15, 2014, Emily Sagalis holds her child in the airport building where she gave birth. (AFP Photo/Ted Aljibe)

The resilience of people such as Emily, Jennifer and Elsie is humbling and inspiring.

On an earlier trip to the typhoon-affected areas, I also wrote an article on the determination of survivors to "bangon", a local term to rise again. It received a lot of positive feedback, because it highlighted a spirit of hope.

But they can’t do it by themselves.

United Nations agencies and other aid groups are doing a brilliant job in helping the survivors, and are expected to continue working there for years. They need millions of dollars from the public to fund their operations, and many of them have ongoing appeals for donations.

A UN guide to giving is here: https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/Haiyan_GtG_EN.pdf

However they cannot help everyone and small contributions directly to individuals can also turn around lives. I was elated when a couple of people in the Philippines contacted me to inquire about donating money to Jennifer, who desperately wants to open a small stall.

If anyone feels like helping Jennifer, Emily or Elsie, they are welcome to email me at karl.malakunas@afp.com, and I’d be happy to facilitate.