BRINGING HOPE AMIDST DEVASTATION
From the air the landscape showed a litter of flattened matchboxes, scattered sticks, upturned toy cars, colorful twisted corrugated sheets, misshapen metal skeletons, wires and cables in wormy disarray, tiny appliances crushed and strewn, broken glass glinting in the weak sun. Soon, one’s eyes pick up on the movement of tiny dolls floating on the nearby beach, then follows the line of more bedraggled dolls scattered on the streets, piled up beside broken walls and pinned under heaps of debris and flotsam.
On closer look, however, what seemed like broken matchboxes were houses once. The twisted metal frames, used to be schools, churches, business establishments and government edifices stripped of roofs. Scattered sticks are uprooted trees and electrical posts. The upturned toy cars are real vehicles swept and crushed by the storm surge. Strewn wires and cables used to be fully functioning electricity and phone lines. The broken glass once graced doors and windows that were shattered by the force of the wind. And the floating dolls by the beach, on the streets and under heaps of debris used to be living, breathing people. All no more.
Such is the vista for miles and miles of coastal communities in the Central Visayan Region of the Philippines. The devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) was of a scale and magnitude unimaginable even for a country that is no stranger to weather disturbances like the Philippines that experiences no less 20 typhoons every year.
Haiyan was classified as a Category 5 typhoon. For a time, storm clouds covered the entire country, stretching 1,120 miles—the distance between Florida and Canada. When it slammed into the island of Leyte early Friday morning, it brought with it sustained winds reported as high as 195 mph and gusts up to 230 mph.
According to meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters, Yolanda is the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in world history. Meanwhile, meteorologist and weather journalist Eric Holthaus said the typhoon’s readings went off the charts as it approached the Philippines, such that the US’ National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had issued a bulletin saying that the storm’s intensity could no longer be tracked using the widely-used Dvorak storm intensity scale.
Storm surges practically flattened coastal cities, such as Tacloban and Ormoc City, in Leyte. Casualties are on the rise but Philippine President Benigno Aquino, Jr. says the more realistic number is between 2,000-2,500 as opposed to the 10,000 earlier reported. As of November 13, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council pegs number of missing people at 84, while the number of injured was placed at 2,623. Meanwhile, a total of 1,387,446 families or close to 7 million people were affected in 41 provinces. Of the total affected, close to 600,000 people were displaced, with their homes totally or partially damaged by the storm surge. Cost of damage to infrastructure is estimated at Php199,584,661 and to agriculture at Php561,815,710.
In majority of the affected areas, electricity is still cut-off and mobile communication signals are unreliable. Roads and bridges are impassable in some places, making relief and retrieval operations even more difficult. Looting is rampant in areas not adequate reached with relief goods, constraining the national government to send military forces to restore peace and order. Meanwhile, unretrived bodies are starting to decay and smell, posing additional health risk to the survivors.
Amidst all the numbers and statistics are individual stories of fear and grief, pain and trauma: of a woman losing parent, husband and children, of a father clutching the already dead body of his child even as he ran for safety, of an airport security guard relating how he was able to save two of his co-workers only to lose three of his own children, of a young man forced to loot a grocery store after several days of hunger and thirst. The list goes on and on, of harrowing escapes and devastating losses.
“We are a devastated and deeply wounded people,” writes Dr. Nora Lucero, General Secretary of the Philippine Bible Society. “We have not yet recovered from the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in October, which killed hundreds of people, and now Typhoon Haiyan has sent tsunami-like waves and howling winds that have flattened entire cities.”
Filipinos are a deeply spiritual people, with more than 90% of its population Christian. Many people have lost their Bibles in the storm at a time when they need them the most. That is why the Philippine Bible Society has launched Project: God is Our Shelter, through which it plans to make hundreds of thousands of Scriptures available for distribution, alongside essential aid, such as food, blankets and medicine.
“We appeal for help from our sister Bible Societies around the world. We hope to be able to make available 250,000 copies of the book, ‘God is our Shelter’, which is a collection of Bible passages and reflections about how God can help us in times of trouble,” says Dr. Lucero. “We also want to provide 20,000 Bibles and 20,000 Bible comics for children and young people. We want to remind our suffering people of these words and the hope in them.”
For donations, please deposit to our bank accounts:
Account name: Philippine Bible Society
UCPB (UN Ave. Branch) Account Number: 128-101338-1 (Peso donations)
BPI (Sta. Mesa Branch) Account Number: 3904-0027-46 (Dollar donations)
Swift code for Dollar account: BOPIPHMM
For online Credit Card donations please visit: www.bible.org.ph
May we be one in praying and helping rebuild our devastated country and in giving our broken countrymen a brand new start.
Dr. Nora G. Lucero
Philippine Bible Society