14 Nov 2013

Grace, generosity and kindness in aftermath of typhoon horror

I am huddled under cover with Thelma and her friends, who are taking the opportunity to laugh and chat after the devastating week they have had in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

Thelma says she is lucky,  writes Channel 4 News producer Anna-Lisa Fuglesang, from Tacloban City in the Philippines.

“I have all of my family,” she tells me as we sit under corrugated steel and what used to be the roof of a house.

“At 5am I did not worry, there was wind and rain.”

By 8 o’clock she was clinging to a wooden chair being propelled down the street on a neck high storm surge. The catastrophic effects of Typhoon Yolanda (as it’s known here in the Philippines) took everyone by surprise and on this decimated street it is clear how unprepared they were.

Magallenes was once a road that led to the sea and the location of Thelma’s home. Now her house can be found 200m further inland and the sea view is blocked by rubble, acres and acres of rubble. How much rubble isn’t apparent until you clamber over the roof under which Thelma and I sit.

She tells me what happened that day.

“I didn’t pack my possessions,” she says. She felt it wasn’t necessary, but when water began to collect in her house, more water than the rain accounted for, she began to panic.

Read more: all of the Channel 4 News coverage of Typhoon Haiyan

She ran outside and tried to seek refuge in a hole in the ground. The wave caught her and she was swept down the street. Her only salvation was an old piece of furniture. Afterwards, it took her days to contact her daughter who lives in the city of Cebu. When she was able, she travelled there with her 82-year old mother.

She has come back to collect what’s left of her things.

“It will take 3-6 months and then I will rebuild my house,” she explains, whilst pointing to the rubbish that must be removed. There is a lot to do, and I fear it could take longer.

I am constantly amazed by the grace, generosity and kindness of the Filipinos. They welcome us into their homes to shelter from the tropical downpours that happen, without warning, and thank us wherever we go. In this spirit I am huddled under cover with Thelma and her friends who are taking the opportunity to laugh and chat. She would like to offer me coffee, she says, but there are no cups.

I ask Thelma if she was scared and her reply is a clear “yes”, but in the next breath I hear that on the day of the storm her dog gave birth.

With the humour I have come to expect of these courageous people, she tells me she named the puppies Yolando and Yolanda.