“Survivors! Survivors!” a marshal called to the volunteers over the drone of the C-130 preparing to descend at Villamor Airbase.
By Maesie Bertumen
Two by two, they slowly came down the ramp, shading their eyes from the blinding sun. Philippine Air Force soldiers ran to meet them and help them carry what little they managed to save from the devastation. Cheers and applause erupted from the grand stand where hot meals, medics and comfort awaited the survivors.
These families’ exodus seemingly ended here, more than 800 km away from Tacloban city.
More than a week has passed since Typhoon Haiyan laid waste to the bustling coastal town in central Philippines. Since then, C-130s land every few hours at Villamor Airbase, carrying a hundred different faces, a hundred different stories.
A man, his skin browned from years working under the sun, raised his hands as if in prayer. He was safe. Thousands weren’t as lucky.
Some of the survivors said they left Tacloban to stay with relatives in Manila. Others who were desperate to leave the devastation boarded the plane without an inkling of what their fate held, and they are being helped by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Eight days is a long time for the news cycle, enough to bury the tragedy that befell millions of people in Leyte and neighboring provinces. But every day, people from every walk of life have been streaming into the airbase with sacks of rice, boxes of clothes, or simply a hand ready to help.
The airbase’s gymnasium was so full of Air Force soldiers in PT Blue uniforms and civilian volunteers that organizers of the relief operation had to stop letting people in. Volunteers looked to their duty with fervent determination while outside truckloads of rice were waiting to be repacked while more aid kept coming in.
The individual aid packages come to six kilos of rice, three cans of sardines, three tins of corned beef, eight packs of instant noodles and instant coffee, thanks to relief operations across Manila, but they can only go so far. The question lingers: how do you rebuild millions of lives from the ground up?
“We’re taking it day by day,” a volunteer for Operation Salubong said when asked whether relief operations will last until next weekend.
“As long as the planes come, we’re here. We need more volunteers to welcome and assist the survivors when they arrive, especially during later shifts in the night,” he said.
Volunteers are tasked with handing food to the survivors as they land at the airbase. They assist families, such as picking clothes and shoes for them from a pile of donated clothing at a nearby tent. Those who “can handle the emotional baggage” are briefed to act as counsellors for the survivors.
“Please avoid being emotional when you’re with the survivors. They need your strength,” an orientation staff said.
If you would like to help, the following links have information for several foreign aid agencies: