14 Nov 2013

Typhoon Haiyan: the journey to reconnect a family

I think the only way to write this is just as it happens. By its nature I have no clue how this story may end.

Pre News refresh player – this is the default player for the C4 news site – please do not delete. Ziad

Tuesday November 12, 23:32

Am in our white minibus heading north from Cebu City to our live position at a rubble-strewn roadside just as you come in to Bogo City on N tip of Cebu Island. Flicking through Twitter I suddenly see a man called Christian, apparently in London, has responded to earlier tweet from me that we are trying to get to Leyte Island and the Tacloban area tomorrow. He writes:

“My family are in a small town called Tabontabon in central Leyte, 20 miles southwest of Tacloban. No news since Thursday. Will you go there?”

I must take care not to make promises without being able to assess things on Leyte – but I do say we’ll try.

Wednesday November 12, 01:45

Christian has kindly now responded to my request for details on email. Family name Octa. Mum Eliza Cranfield (Filipina born, British citizen). Remarried Peter Cranfield (British) after first husband passed away – Christian’s stepfather.

Also missing: grandmother, Julita Octa; Narlit Sosing/Octa (aunt); Mila Elsopor/Octa (aunt); Leo Octa (uncle); Bill Octa (uncle); Nari Octa (uncle); Rapack Octa (uncle); Abraham Octa (uncle).


More details. Last known contact was Thursday. Christian in London spoke to family. They were taking cover. Last known definite location a hopefully robust house located approx one mile south of Tabontabon, which is 20 miles south west of Tacloban, between the towns of Dagami and Burauen on the central-east side of the island.

He gives a description of Tabontabon as a very rural hamlet: school, church, a few houses.


Now back in Cebu planning ferry booking. 11:00 crossing looks possible. Need to buy food, water, diesel and petrol/four stroke oil for generator. Am checking sat-phones work when Christian in London supplies full lat/long GPS co-ords for last known location.

He sounds stressed on the phone – tense, taught, keeping it together. I tell him no comms with them all for seven days just means phones are out, it’s not a sign of bad news necessarily.


Supplies bought. Van refuelled. Cameraman Matt Jasper thinks we may have a fix to aim at with the details supplied.


Embarkation for five-hour crossing from Cebu to Leyte. Docking at 16.00 gives us just 90 mins to locate house from Omroc along roads possibly impassable with debris. Leyte is one of the worst-affected islands. Night won’t make things easier on an island with no electricity and angry people short of food. Driver Bobby and fixer Al (both from Cebu) roll the van on the ferry as late as poss – last on, first off.


Chance for team to get more than three hours sleep for first time in five days. They both take it. I’m not sleeping. Troubled by what I’m wandering into. Could I end up phoning a man in London to say: “I’m very sorry Christian but your mum, stepdad, gran, two aunts and five uncles are all dead…”

Decide that’s cowardly. He asked me to do this. I said we’d film it. He’s happy and knows and agrees to all that, whatever we’re coming into tonight at dusk. Wish this boat would hurry up though, just another hour of daylight would make all the difference.


Contact with Christian – he agrees to have crew there. When/if we get news of the family.


Docking at Ormoc. The place is extensively wrecked. In one street about eighty people are gathered to charge phones. Still signal here – they’re desperately telling loved ones they’re ok.


Called newsdesk. Half an hour away from village of Tabontabon. Dark. Distant lightening. But everyone knows the family name Octa and ‘the Englishman’.


We’re close. You have to leave the van – too many palm trees blocking it. Three men know Peter and Eliza Cranfield’s house. They’ve walked here from Tacloban, nine hours ago, in flip-flops.


“Peter’s house – here,” says one of the flip-flop walkers.

“Hello! We’re looking for Eliza and Peter. We are Channel 4 News.”

Eliza appears on the balcony: “Oh my god!”

Moments later she’s confirming to Christian in London on our sat-phone, that everyone is safe and well. All the family. She’s close to tears. She’s not the only one.

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