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Haiyan survivors face daily battle

14 November 2013, 16:03

Tacloban - People who clung to power cables or cowered in concrete buildings as an apocalyptic storm blew through the Philippines may have thought they were lucky to live, but for many, the struggle to survive has only just begun.

Those who made it through the terrifying winds, which hurled cars and parts of buildings around as they brought a surge of seawater ashore, each have a story to tell about the day Super Typhoon Haiyan struck.

But all now face the slow-motion disaster of life in a lawless wasteland, where food and water are scarce, medicine is in short supply and gunfire rings out.

On a road behind Tacloban airport, Nelson Matobato, aged 34, and his wife Karen, aged 29, sat at night in a pedicab beside an improvised plywood coffin holding the bodies of their two daughters, aged 5 and 7.

Their two sons, one aged 4 and another only 3 months old, are still missing.

"The water came at 07:00 and our house was submerged instantly," Nelson Matobato said.

"By 09:00 we were already on the rooftop. Then all of us were swept away as the house disintegrated. We could not do anything."

His neighbour Dennis Daray also sat by the road, with the body of his sister wrapped in a white sack, one of thousands of people feared to have died in one of the most powerful storms ever recorded.


Daray said he was waiting for authorities to start retrieving bodies.

"It needs to be collected by the authorities. It's starting to smell," he said.

Angeline Conchas and her 7-year-old daughter were trapped on the second floor of their building as flood waters rose around them.

They made their way to safety by clinging on to an electricity cable to get them to a higher building where they sat the flood out.

"It is a good thing the electricity had already been cut off or we would have died," Conchas said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said a number of the survivors have significant injuries that need attention. Medics say wounds left untreated in the heat and humidity can quickly become infected, leading to severe illnesses or death.


The cramped living conditions of those made homeless by last Friday's disaster provide a breeding ground for contagious diseases, while the lack of clean drinking water could give rise to diarrhoea, which can quickly prove fatal if left untreated.

But the WHO also cautioned that regular health needs still have to be met, including the 12 000 babies expected to be born this month to the more than 11.3 million people affected.

But with no more antibiotics available, doctors worry that infection could yet bring a tragic end to this small story of hope.

Local doctor Corazon Rubio survived last week's typhoon, which killed 10 of her neighbours, but she said it was the aftermath that left her terrified.

"What is frightening is the looting," Rubio told AFP.

"They would get TV sets from the houses. Of what use are they? We don't even have electricity," she said.

Psychiatrists say some of those pillaging are doing so because of the hopelessness and desperation they feel having lost almost everything.

Daily struggles

Others may be doing it from economic necessity. The International Labour Organisation estimates that three million people have lost their livelihoods. It says nearly half of these are vulnerable workers, subsistence farmers or fishermen.

Tourism, a mainstay of the Philippine economy, will also have been hit by the latest tragedy in a country prone to natural disasters.

But for many, worries about jobs are something for another day. More immediate fears have taken precedence.

Cecilia Beltran, a 47-year-old mother of three, was queuing outside city hall in Tacloban for a power socket to charge her mobile phone as she told of her family's hourly struggle to subsist.

"It's difficult. We beg for food from neighbours because relief aid has not arrived. We only eat once a day," she told AFP. "Our house is gone. We now live in a tent on the street.

"We scavenged pots from the debris and washed them. We just picked up our clothes from the street and then laundered them. We have nothing left."



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