Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on Nov. 8 as the strongest recorded storm to breach the country’s land and educated estimates believe it may be one of the strongest storms ever recorded on Earth.
After Haiyan hit Lilibeth Dela Cruz’s hometown of Ulhay, in the Province of Leyte, she spent the next six days sitting in her Ponoka home wondering how her brother and other relatives were faring, or if they were even alive.
“It was stressful. To be honest, I was only getting one to two hours of sleep a night,” said Dela Cruz.
“Not knowing if they were alive. When I spoke to my brother and everyone was alive, only the houses were affected, it was a relief,” she added.
Dela Cruz’s cousin lives in the city of Beybey, Leyte, two hours from the village of Ulhay, and while communication was severely hindered in the affected areas she was finally able to reach them; yearning for information on the status of her brother. He was there when her call went through and she was able to get a first-hand update on her family and the village.
Along with her sisters, Dela Cruz has a vacation home in Ulhay, constructed with concrete and a sturdier foundation than many of the homes there. During the typhoon her brother opened that house for people to gather in for safety. “There was 100 people in the house.”
Although she isn’t positive because of a lack of communication, Dela Cruz believes people stayed in her home for three or four days, but once the storm and the rain settled they left to try and salvage what was left of their own homes.
“I have a nephew, some of my relatives, their house is gone, like totally gone,” she explained.
Unlike the large city of Tacloban, which is much closer to the ocean and mostly destroyed, Ulhay is further inland and rural. Dela Cruz says there wasn’t as much damage in her village — which has a population of approximately 1,500 — but 90 per cent of the people still have damaged houses. “But you can get that back; but not a life.”
“I would say my village is still lucky,” she added. Living in a rural area meant there were some naturally growing fruits that had survived the storm, people in urban centres such as Tacloban didn’t even have that left.
“Many people are leaving Leyte, especially Tacloban. There’s nothing for them there,” said Dela Cruz. She says most are travelling to Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
During the one time she was able to speak with her brother he told her about the experience in the house the stormed raged on.
Although they weren’t yet ripe, collected coconuts, bananas, mangos and papayas sustained the people until it was safe to go outside. Because the fruit wasn’t ripe it was crunchy and loud to eat. Dela Cruz was told hearing that strange noise from something they normally ate caused a lot of laughter in the house. “They’re still able to laugh at their situation . . . They’re very strong, we’re very strong. That’s what makes me proud to be a Filipino.”
Since Typhoon Haiyan, Dela Cruz has opened a bank account for those who want to donate to help the people Ulhay. She isn’t aggressively seeking donations and has only asked family and close friends she comfortable with.
“I’m doing this on my own effort,” said Dela Cruz. Her sister, who lives in the United States, is undertaking a similar project.
Ulhay is a poor village with more less fortunate people than fortunate people, says Dela Cruz. “The village is very small . . . I know everybody there, I know the hardships.”
“They struggle in daily life without calamity. I can’t imagine what they’re going through now,” she added.
Dela Cruz wanted to send money to the people in Ulhay but her brother told her it would be difficult for them to properly use it; stores in Beybey have limited supplies and the lines are “crazy.” She was told people begin lining up outside of stores at 4 a.m.
In Beybey some businesses have doubled the price of foods such as rice and gas, which is normally 50 pesos per litre, has been raised to 150 pesos per litre in some places. “I don’t know if it’s everybody or some greedy businesses . . . And that’s sad. When I found out it really makes me mad.”
“Almost (all of) Leyte is going to that city for food and gas. The businesses see that and that’s why it’s really upsetting,” she added.
Dela Cruz says her sister wanted to send relief funds right away but she told her they needed to wait to see what kind and how much aid the people of Ulhay received from governments and other organizations first. That way their own efforts could fill in the gaps or be used when other relief funds stopped coming in. “It’s hard for us to make decisions . . . I really don’t know what kind of help they’re going to get.”
“They just have to live day by day, hoping the right help will come,” she added.
Dela Cruz is planning a Valentine’s Day party to raise more money because she knows they’ll still need support months from now. The main business of Ulhay is farming but she doesn’t think they’re able to get into the rice fields right now and most of the coconut trees were destroyed. Many other coconut trees are still young, they take 15 year to become mature enough to bear fruit.
“I don’t have a date but that’s my future plan. Not just me, but my relatives and close friends . .. Our main concern right now is how our people will continually eat and their shelter.”
Another Ponoka resident, Robert Koteles was also in the Philippines on the day of Typhoon Haiyan. Koteles was in the country campaigning for the personal use of medical marijuana, because for the next six months he’ll be living there, and advocating for the industry to take root in the Philippines.
“I was talking to the highest officials in the medical field and the drug enforcement agency to bring medical marijuana into the Philippines and grow it.”
Koteles left Canada for the Philippines on Sept. 26 and returned Nov. 9. “I flew right through that storm. We flew right over the eye of that storm.”
His plane was the last to leave the Manila airport and he says officials were pushing to get the plane out of there and into the air as fast as possible. “Everybody was silent on the plane, they were white-knuckled . . . I couldn’t believe they let us out. I thought we’d be there all night.”
Mecca Glen, a school of approximately 150 students, has, through a hot dog fundraiser, raised $800 for Red Cross relief funds to be contributed to the Philippines relief effort. “I’m really proud of them,” said principal Al Libby.
Libby added a parent of a student volunteered to pay the entire bill of the supplies needed for the fundraiser, so nothing raised would be needed for operational costs. “So that’s a straight $800 profit for the Red Cross,” said Libby.
According to the National Crisis Management Agency there are approximately 3,976 confirmed deaths, 1,598 missing and 18,175 injured. In the Eastern Visayas region covering the islands of Leyte and Samar: 3,725 dead, 17,821 injured and 1,574 missing. The Western Visayas region: 161 dead, 228 injured, 19 missing. Central Visayas region, which includes Cebu: 74 dead, 102 injured and 5 missing. Other regions: 16 dead, 24 injured.
Between 11 and 12 million people were affected by the typhoon and approximately 4 million are still displaced from their homes, 19 days after it tore through the country.
Typhoon Haiyan ran a course through eastern and central Philippines with sustained winds speeds between 250 and 295 kph, and gusts as strong as 360 kph. Haiyan’s winds equate it to a Category 5 hurricane.
Haiyan’s reach was so large in diameter that its clouds affected two-thirds of the country, which stretches more than 1,850 kilometers.
Early last week the Alberta Government made the announcement it will match Albertan’s donations made to the Red Cross relief efforts up to $500,000.
*With files from CNN and BBC