They were expecting a wave of 400 survivors. Two C-130 planes later, it was clear that no one else was coming that night. The next flight in was supposed to come at 5 the next morning, and it was half past 11.
By Maesie Bertumen
On Monday night, the scene at Villamor Airbase hasn’t changed from a week before. People had stopped counting the planes that landed in Manila—they were constantly passing through the airstrip, arriving with about 150 survivors and then taking off for Tacloban full of relief aid.
The grand stand at the far end of the tarmac became the survivors’ refuge before they met families they hadn’t seen in ages or turned over to the care of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Rows and rows were filled with families exhausted and hungry from the flight. At the top bleacher, a boy about 10 years old lay sleeping on a cardboard box while around him volunteers ran up and down to distribute packed meals, bread and water to the survivors.
Everyone would watch as the lights of an approaching aircraft began to appear from the dark runway. Dozens more disembarked from the new plane and made their way toward the lit up grand stand. A person on the microphone shouts, “Let’s welcome our brothers and sisters to Manila!” The crowd erupts in cheers and applause.
The survivors were given food—two meals each and water. Give them more and they would shake their heads, “We already have some,” pointing to the two bottles of water at their feet. One would wonder if it was enough for the family of five.
Some took huge bites of their food and others clutched the styrofoam in their laps, their eyes distant or searching for a familiar face in the crowded bleachers.
The speakers boomed with a voice calling for people who wanted to go back to Cebu city, across the island of Leyte. There were tickets for Cebu available that night, the voice said. There were buses waiting for those who wanted to go to Laguna.
A survivor said she was surprised when the C-130 landed in Manila. “We were told we were going to Cebu, but here we are. We might try to go back.”
There was word going around that more than 400 survivors would be arriving aboard a US aircraft. The clock inched towards midnight, and the volunteers were restless and anxious.
Another C-130 landed at half past 11. The passengers came down the ramp—men in military uniform, firemen in reflective trousers, foreign men with sleeping bags on their backs, men carrying tripods. Just like the survivors, they were led to the lit up grand stand. The crowd breaks into applause, louder this time.
The roar of the engines came to a halt when the clock struck 12. The volunteers would wait until dawn for the next plane. They still come two weeks after the brutal storm.
If you would like to help, the following links have information for several foreign aid agencies: