THE DAY THE SKY FELL ON THE PHILIPPINES

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(The following post was published in Russian in New Times in Moscow.) 

It was one of the most gripping images I saw of super typhoon Haiyan when it struck central Philippines:  a group of people on the roof of a house trying to evade fast rising flood waters,  holding on for dear life as they were buffeted by rain, wind and storm surge in Tacloban City.  These images were captured on video by our news team on the ground.

For several tense hours, we lost all communication with our journalists.  When we reestablished connection later, the full story of those people on the roof dawned on us: They were children in an orphanage called Street Life Philippines that was pounded and destroyed during the super typhoon.  They climbed the roof and held on for nearly two hours, refusing to be swept away by the violent waters.

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What struck me most was what the founder of the orphanage, a foreigner named Erlend Johanndsen, said after surviving the ordeal: “Up there was the longest one and a half hours of their lives. But it also showed the true spirit of humanity and the true spirit of Filipinos. They were really holding on, refusing to surrender, refusing to give up.”  He said the children even managed to smile after that traumatic experience.

Indeed  the Filipino spirit is strong and indomitable.  But this time around, the tragedy seems much greater and the heartbreak for thousands of victims may take longer to recover from.

A man who survived the raging floods wept as he was being interviewed by our news team.  “I’m sorry,” he said in between tears, “I was unable to rescue my child.  He was already lifeless when his body was recovered.”

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When you walk the streets of badly hit towns, you see the extent of the damage.  It is a scene straight from an apocalyptic film.  Where houses and structures once stood, now you find a heap of garbage strewn by a mighty force.  On the streets, the foul stench of decaying corpses, the horror still etched on their faces.

And those who are alive do not feel they are fortunate.  “We survived the tragedy, but we will die of hunger,” one survivor lamented.  Another man was in tears as he cooked the very last piece of dried fish he was saving for his family.

Relief goods are painfully slow to come because of the badly damaged roads and ports, the lack of transportation and fuel, and the sheer scale of needed aid.

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But as it happens during every tragedy, Filipinos pull together to help those who are less fortunate.  Volunteers work day and night repacking goods, clothes, medicines, blankets, tents and other items donated by individuals, groups and institutions.

World aid has also been pouring in from different countries, the United Nations, the International Red Cross, World Food Programme, the Vatican, and other institutions.  But more will be appreciated.

Year 2013 is about to close but the local weather bureau says there will be 2 or 3 more weather disturbances that may affect the Philippines — we’ve had over 25 typhoons already  this year.  We can only brace ourselves for more.

I look at the brave kids from that orphanage, and I see the indomitable spirit of Filipinos.  The country may be bruised and battered by one natural calamity after another.  But always, we rise up and carry on.

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Link to New Times article:  http://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/74083

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