I volunteered for the Philippine Red Cross last night (Nov. 15) to give aid to the refugees of Supertyphoon Yolanda landing at Villamor Air Base. Flights were coming in from Tacloban every couple hours. Here’s a video of an 8:45pm flight exiting the plane.
They stood, waiting expectantly, not seeming to notice the smell that rolled out of the cargo bay. No reflection on them, given what they’ve gone through; on the contrary, I empathized that they all flew standing, crammed together like sardines on a 90 minute flight, with no way to escape the smell, hoping that it would be the last indignity they suffer, although not really expecting that to be true.
Some of them went directly to the grandstand. Others waited near the plane for wounded/infirm family to be brought out.
I entered the plane. This is what I saw.
The wounded and infirm were the last off the plane.
Survivors arriving at the grandstand were first brought into an area for counseling, where someone would sit with them, give them some initial food and water, and listen to their stories while documenting their identities. Then they were evaluated for medical issues, and when cleared, were sent to the grandstand to wait to leave.
SMART provided a mobile phone charging station and SM donated the use of a mobile clinic.
While survivors were being offloaded, relief supplies to take back to Leyte were being prepared for loading by the U.S. Marines.
The repacking operation is truly gargantuan. I took a still for those of you who can’t watch video, but only the 15 second video which pans the room really conveys how large the operation is.
Right before I left at about 1am, I noticed these women waiting with the survivors. They seemed to be in unusually good spirits, laughing and joking with each other. I came to find out that they were not in Tacloban during the disaster, but are at Villamor because they are hoping to be allowed to go to Tacloban on a return flight, if there is space. One of them told me they have been waiting for four days. I took their photo.
I asked the woman in white why they are going to Tacloban. At first she said “To rebuild!” and I said “Don’t you think it would be better to wait a couple weeks until things are more stable?” Her smile slipped away and she said “I’m also going to find my parents and my grandfather whom I haven’t heard from since the storm.” I froze, realizing that this woman is going to walk up to a ruined house she grew up in and hope to God not to find the bodies of her parents inside or nearby. She must have read something on my face because she laughed through moist eyes and said “Don’t make me cry. We need more jokes!”
Most of the survivors getting off the plane are initially exhausted. After some sleep, if they haven’t been transported on, then worry starts to set in about where they will end up or get their next meal from. The children arrive wide-eyed, taking everything in, and once they get comfortable, they laugh and play. Watching them do that in the midst of this tragedy somehow takes the edge off.
by Tony Ahn