Cebu, PHILIPPINES, April 15, 2014 - Brightly-colored gumamelas (hibiscus) in peach, yellow and red dot the sides of the paved road leading to the village of Tapilon in the town of Daanbantayan, Cebu Province. The flowers almost mask the devastation left by typhoon Yolanda (International name Haiyan) in this bucolic coastal village on the morning of November 8, 2013.
Venturing into the village itself reveals the path of destruction left by what most consider the strongest storm to make landfall in history. All across the village stand damaged government and school buildings, and tents housing families. You see makeshift repairs on homes made of light materials such as nipa (palm leaves) and bamboo.
A nearby barangay (village) hall which survived Yolanda’s wrath is abuzz with poor mothers with young children in tow. They just finished attending a family development session with a social worker as beneficiaries of the government’s conditional cash transfer program.
Heidi, a young housewife, is glad she joined one of those sessions in early November 2013. Just a couple of weeks before the typhoon, Cebu and its neighboring provinces experienced a massive earthquake, 7.2 on the Richter scale. “One of the lessons I learned was to keep calm during a disaster,” Heidi said about the session on family disaster preparedness.
“When Yolanda happened, everyone was in panic but I tried not to be affected even though the roof of our house was blown away, and I saw houses around us being knocked down,” she added. Living a safe distance from shore, Heidi decided it was better to stay put in their house than venture into the storm.
The frail mother of three tearfully recalled how her children cried in fear as they sought cover under a table as strong winds and rain battered their hut for almost three hours. “I told myself that I would show them that I was not afraid even though, deep inside, I was truly scared.”
Heidi reassured herself with the thought that she was sufficiently prepared for the calamity. She took to heart the lessons in preparing a disaster kit with drinking water and ready-to-eat food like bread and bananas which helped tide them over the first few days after the typhoon.
She also remembered to pack a flashlight, lamp and clothes for her children. Days later, help started to arrive from relatives, private donors and from the local government.