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Philippines typhoon: waiting to leave Leyte

Gerardo Amantillo (74) and Jovita Amantillo (74) from Basey, close to Tacloban on Leyte island. They were swept out of their home by waves and survived by clinging onto the roof of a neighbours house. They are photographed at Ormoc pier, where they were queuing for over 30 hours to get a boat off the island. (Photo: Eoghan Rice - Trócaire / Caritas)

Gerardo Amantillo (74) and Jovita Amantillo (74) survived by clinging onto the roof of a neighbours house. They are photographed at Ormoc pier, where they were queuing for over 30 hours to get a boat off Leyte island. (Photo: Eoghan Rice – Trócaire / Caritas)

By Eoghan Rice

Filipinos are opening their homes to victims of Typhoon Yolande, giving shelter to people whose houses were destroyed in the devastating storm.

Over 900,000 people are thought to be displaced as a result of last Friday’s typhoon. Many are seeking shelter with friends and family until their own homes can be repaired.

At Ormoc pier on Leyte island, people wait for boats to take them from one of the worst affected islands.

One family, the Baldescos, said that they had decided to leave the island until the situation there improved and while they were gone had allowed neighbours to live in their home.

Others are being supported by family members. Gerardo and Jovita Amantillo (both 74) were at home when Typhoon Yolande struck. Like so many others in the Basey region, they had prepared for strong winds but had not expected the storm to bring in such huge waves.

When more than two metres of water rushed into their house, they were swept away but miraculously managed to survive.

“The water rushed into our house and swept us outside,” said Gerardo. “We managed to grab onto the roof of a neighbour’s house and that is what saved us. We had to hold on to the roof for two hours before the storm ended.”

Their wooden house was destroyed and for the past week they have been staying with neighbours. However, one of their sons lives in an unaffected region of neighbouring Cebu island and they plan on staying with him “probably for the next six months”.

As they prepare to leave behind the island they have called home for decades, the meager few possessions they have with them is a reminder of how much people here lost.

Eoghan Rice is a communications officer for Caritas member Trocaire.

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International and local Caritas efforts underway in the Philippines

Packing aid a church centre in cebu for the worst hit communities in the Philippines. Carole Reckinger/Caritas Luxembourg

Packing aid a Church centre in Cebu for the worst hit communities in the Philippines. Carole Reckinger/Caritas Luxembourg

Aid is rushing to the Philippines from Caritas organisations around the world after Super Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) battered the country last weekend.

Caritas Germany have just ordered 10,000 shelters, hygiene kits and household kits for one of the worst hit islands of Leyte, due for delivery next week. Caritas member Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has chartered a 747 jet to transport 40,000 tarpaulins. A plane left Holland yesterday with 24 tonnes of tarps and 3300 medical kits from Caritas Netherlands (Cordaid).

The international Caritas relief effort is coordinated with the national Caritas and the local Church. Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines-NASSA, has been part of an International Caritas Humanitarian Team on Leyte.

“We have never faced anything of this magnitude,” he said. “We greatly appreciate the support and solidarity from Caritas members around the world. By working together in a coordinated way, we can help save lives and rebuild communities.”

Catholic Relief Services will begin handing out 28,000 temporary shelters in the hard-hit Philippine city of Ormoc this weekend. The weatherproof tarpaulins will go to residents whose homes were destroyed by the typhoon.

The tarps, along with kits containing hygiene and household items, are coming by boat from Cebu City and will be stored in the gymnasium of a Catholic school as the distribution is organised.

Ormoc, a city of 190,000, is on the western side of Leyte, across a small range of mountains from the provincial capital Tacloban. Both cities experienced 13-foot tidal surges and devastating winds after Haiyan came ashore with winds approaching 200 mph. There are estimates that 90 percent of the structures in Ormoc were damaged or destroyed.

International Caritas Humanitarian Team member Eoghan Rice of Irish Caritas agency Trócaire said the situation in Ormoc is calm: “Boats are coming in with aid. There is a lot of helicopter activity. Assistance is arriving.”

The Caritas team has been able to travel to Tacloban and to other remote areas of Leyte. “From what I have seen, it’s a very calm situation,” he said. “People are waiting very peacefully for aid to arrive.”

He says that the same mild atmosphere is present at the docks, where 6000 people are queuing up to leave on ferries to nearby Cebu. In the queue for the boat, he met by chance a Philippine family with relations in his hometown of Dublin.

Rollie Baldesco with his wife Mapeth and children Karyl, Esme and Ellyza wait for a boat to take them from Leyte island to nearby Cebu. (Photo: Eoghan Rice - Trócaire / Caritas)

Rollie Baldesco with his wife Mapeth and children Karyl, Esme and Ellyza wait for a boat to take them from Leyte island to nearby Cebu. (Photo: Eoghan Rice – Trócaire / Caritas)

Rollie and Mapeth Baldesco, both 41, and their children Karyl, 17, Esme, 4 and Ellyza, 6, are from Tacloban, where over 4000 people are now said to have died. “We almost didn’t make it,” said Rollie. “We were hiding downstairs from the wind, but we didn’t expect the wave to come. We had to grab the small children and swim upstairs.”

The need of aid in Tacloban is great. “Our house was ruined. We had no water. We were able to survive on some tinned food. We had to leave the city because we were afraid of disease as there are bodies on the street,” he said.

In addition to the Ormoc distribution, CRS plans to give shelters to residents of Palo on the eastern coast of Leyte about 10 miles south of Tacloban. Office space has been secured in Catholic church buildings there.

Caritas relief operations include a number of areas. “We’re trying to reach the devastated areas. But it’s still very difficult. There’s still no electricity or petrol, and no communications with people on the ground,” said Msgr Broderick Pabillo, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila, the President of Caritas Philippines (NASSA).

The Church has delivered eight truckloads of food packs, water, clothing and cash to the Archdiocese of Capiz, where tens of thousands of people are in need.

The Church has also opened a base in Calbayog to help reach people on Samar Island. Fr. Cesar Aculan, who is working on relief operations, said it will provide a critical staging area for emergency relief operations.

Significant Caritas relief operation began on 13 December there in support of the work being done by parishes.“Typhoon victims here in need food, they are already hungry,” said Fr. Aculan.

Fr. Neil Tenafrancia of the Diocese of Borongan said there is no let up in the Church and other organisation’s relief efforts but the fuel crisis limits their operations. “That’s our problem here because we remain isolated. Many roads were destroyed by the typhoon,” he said.

Msgr Broderick Pabillo says the people of the Philippines has shown great solidarity.

“Filipinos are willing to help the victims, with donations and also with prayers. Here in Manila many volunteers are preparing the aid parcels that are being sent to the disaster areas,” he said. “They’re also welcoming the survivors who’ve managed to get to Cebu and then Manila.”

All Catholic Church Masses in the Philippines for the following nine days will be offered for the dead and the grieving families they left behind.

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Reflections from Central African Republic

Catherine Mahony in Bangui, Central African Republic. Credit: Matthieu Alexandre/Caritas

Catherine Mahony in Bangui, Central African Republic. Credit: Matthieu Alexandre/Caritas

By Catherine Mahony

I’m in the Central African Republic as part of the Caritas Internationalis Emergency Response Team, supporting Caritas CAR in delivering assistance to communities which have been devastated by violence since the coup in March this year.

While the crisis is only just beginning to register in the consciousness of the international community, for months now I’ve been reading reports from Caritas CAR, detailing the horrors faced by members of their parishes.

I’ve shuddered as I’ve read about communities so traumatised by vicious attacks they cannot bury their dead, whose corpses lie strewn about the burnt down villages until they become a hazard to the remaining survivors. Each week a litany of atrocities grows, that I feel disrespectful to repeat, lest they become ghoulish or vulgarised.

To understand the scale of the crisis, in a country of five million, half a million are displaced. Nearly one and a half million are severely food insecure, and as people are too afraid of being attacked to go to their fields to plant crops, this will worsen. Health centres, few, far between and under-supplied at the best of times, have been systematically pillaged. The coalition of Seleka forces, whose rebellion overthrew the government of Francoise Bozize, roam virtually unimpeded throughout the country, taking by force whatever they choose.

The tension is palpable on arrival. When I ask Abbe Dieubeni, who came to meet us at the airport, how things are in Bangui, he looks away uncomfortably as he tells me it’s not good. The journey from the airport through the city of Bangui takes us quickly through darkened and deserted streets.

There is no enforced curfew, but people don’t go out. We’re asked to return to the guesthouse by 5pm, due to an increase of car-jackings at night, and we heard that the night we arrived the driver of an INGO was killed during one such theft. Our driver, Brice, is chatty and funny, a great guide to the town, but as it gets darker, he’s visibly twitchy. So great is the fear of the brutality, people don’t take chances.

Caritas Central African Republic President Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalaing of Bangui has taken time to explain the situation to us. He describes a country which has been chronically neglected, to the point where it has become so vulnerable that it has been overrun by a loosely allied coalition of rebels, known as the Seleka. Many of these are thought to come from neighbouring Chad and Sudan, and are here to extract everything of value that they can from the country.

Religion has been used as a means to divide communities and further destabilise the country. Ill-trained if at all, and without a formal command structure, Seleka commit atrocities with impunity. Many are afraid that without action to rapidly stabilise the country, the situation will collapse into a spiral of ever more bloody revenge attacks.

We headed out to Ngandala, a village which Caritas CAR is supporting after they suffered repeated raids by Seleka. Each time, without any warning, the community was pillaged, taking anything of value, including agricultural tools, cooking equipment and food. People fled to the bush in fear of their lives, and with good reason. In the village further up the road, two people were executed on the spot for resisting demands. The village was deserted for days, while people hid, exposed to the elements, in the long grass and trees that surround the area.

Sister Flora Guerekopialo, Programme Manager for this response, tells me that in the last month it’s been calmer, and people are starting to return to normal patterns of life. The community has joined together to form small cooperatives, or ‘groupements’ where they grow food collectively and share it to eat and sell.

Caritas is supporting these cooperatives by providing them with tools and cassava saplings to grow on communal land. While the crowd of smiling faces show people are clearly happy with this assistance, the fear that remains is evident in the speed with which they gather up and hide away their tools after the distribution.

The children in the community provide some perspective. I’ve noticed that Bangui seems to be a town of dancers – as we’re driving along I frequently notice people dancing, even when there’s no music, sometimes alone, just to pass the time.

During our visit to the village, I sat with the children who were interested in my camera. One started a wriggly little dance, and I danced back. Soon they were all dancing, and spontaneously they struck up a beautiful, loud, exuberant song. I was sitting down, surrounded on all sides, by about thirty wriggling, giggling children, tiny tots to ten year olds, belting out songs in Sango, the national language.

All around me were ecstatic faces, and behind them their parents, clapping and laughing along. All I could do was laugh and wriggle myself, and wallow a while in their happiness.

I find it strange, but right, that just after Sister Flora has told the desolation of village when everyone fled to the bush, I’m suddenly immersed in the most joyful mass of children. This is what I’d really like to share of the story of CAR.

Here people of different tribes and religions have a long and strong history of peaceful cohabitation. I’d like people to know that there are beautiful things here: hardworking farmers, dedicated teachers, laughing children. We’re not in the abyss, but we are on the precipice. We must act now.

Caritas and the inter-religious platform of CAR are calling upon the international community to take immediate action to bring stability to the country, ensure smooth transition to democratic governance and provide support for quick and effective humanitarian relief.

Catherine Mahony is an Emergency Coordinator for West Africa at CAFOD, a Caritas member in the UK.

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Eye witness accounts in Tacloban as Philippine relief efforts continue

Mulvarosa Pepilla Perote (57) and her grandson Brynzsly (12). They survived the typhoon but Mulvarosa’s nephew, his wife, mother-in-law and 9 month old child have not been seen since. They lived close to the sea in an area that was destroyed by waves. (Photo: Eoghan Rice - Trócaire / Caritas)

Mulvarosa Pepilla Perote (57) and her grandson Brynzsly (12). They survived the typhoon but Mulvarosa’s nephew, his wife, mother-in-law and 9 month old child have not been seen since. They lived close to the sea in an area that was destroyed by waves. (Photo: Eoghan Rice – Trócaire / Caritas)

An International Caritas Humanitarian Team is in the worst hit areas of Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). The team have linked up with local parishes and Caritas staff in Tacloban and Ormoc.

Team member Eoghan Rice said that the damage is incredible. “There are parts of Tacloban where 90 percent of the buildings have been destroyed. The conditions people face are extraordinary.”

People are taking shelter in schools, shops and any other public buildings left standing in Tacloban. The Caritas team, led by Caritas Philippines Director Fr. Edwin Gariguez, visited a local seminary that has been turned into an evacuation centre where local Caritas and Church volunteers are helping over 500 survivors.

Mulvarosa Pibilra Perote is one of them, The 57 year old grandmother has five grown up children and three grandchildren, 11, 10 and 4 years old. They were at home when the storm hit.

“We were all very frightened,” she said. “We thought we were going to die. The children were crying. We were holding onto whatever we could. Many people died in our neighbourhood, including seven in just one family.”

Aid began to arrive in Tacloban overland from Maasin on Sunday. Credit: Caritas Philippines

Aid began to arrive in Tacloban overland from Maasin on Sunday. Credit: Caritas Philippines

The official death toll for Tacloban City rose to 2,000 on Thursday, but that covers only bodies that have been collected or visually confirmed by authorised officials.

“We saw recovery teams pulling bodies out of the rubble. There are dead people in body bags still on the side of the road,” said Eoghan Rice.

Many people remain missing, including Mulvarosa’s nephew, his wife, their 9 month old baby and his mother-in-law. “Nobody knew to expect the waves. My nephew’s family lived by the coast. I told him to move, but he didn’t listen. We’re still looking for them,” she said.

Caritas Philippines has been able to truck food and water to the area through its local network and provide blanket distributions of the aid. More aid is on the way with 18,000 food packs to arrive in Ormoc by the weekend and 18,720 for Tacloban.

Mulvarosa’s family has received rice, noodles and tinned goods. “My house is virtually destroyed. It has no roof,” she said. “I’m very grateful to receive food and shelter.”

A Dutch military plane with 30 tonnes of aid, including 5000 tarpaullins and 3300 medical kits for CORDAID. Credit: Cordaid.

A Dutch military plane with 30 tonnes of aid, including 5000 tarpaullins and 3300 medical kits for CORDAID. Credit: Cordaid.

Caritas Philippines has given €150,000 to 11 diocese to provide food and water. Over 20,000 bags of relief goods have been sent by Caritas Manila to 13 affected dioceses by truck and boat.

International relief is on its way too. Caritas Netherlands (Cordaid) has 24 tonnes of tarpaulins and 3300 medical kits en route by air to Philippines. Caritas member Catholic Relief Services has purchased 32,000 tarpaulins, of which 5000 have arrived in Cebu. With the arrival in country of tarps and water and sanitation kits, initial distributions will take place within the week.

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Philippines survivors: Help! Water! Food!

Food, water, medical supplies and temporary shelter are in urgent need. Credit: Andreas Zinggl/Caritas Austria

Food, water, medical supplies and temporary shelter are in urgent need. Credit: Andreas Zinggl/Caritas Austria

People in the Philippines are in desperate need according to Caritas Austria staff in Cebu, one of the areas Typhoon Haiyan struck. The scale of the disaster has left everyone stunned.

Caritas aid has been getting through. Caritas Philippines has been able to reach survivors since Sunday working through its diocesan staff. Caritas Philippines is focusing its activities in Palo, Jaro, Capiz and Cebu.

Ten trucks with food will go to Ormoc in Leyte, nearly 50 relief packs with clothes and medicines were delivered to a local hospital in Cebu and a truck with relief supplies was sent to Bogo City in the destroyed north.

Heavy rain on Tuesday is making life worse for survivors and more difficult for relief operations. Families are sleeping in the elements and need the basics just to get by. Over 670,000 have been forced from their homes. Based on population figures where the typhoon made direct hits, an estimated 500,000 homes could be destroyed.

Emergency shelter remains a top priority. 32,000 tarpaulins have been bought by Caritas member CRS and the first tarps and water and sanitation supplies have arrived in the country.

In Tacloban City, streets are flooded and there are growing health concerns that the bodies, rubbish and sewage will lead to the spread of disease. Hygiene and sanitation are critical to maintain in order to prevent waterborne diseases that often occur in crowded, polluted conditions.

The number of people affected has risen to 11.3 million, but the government says that the death toll might not be as high as expected. President Benigno Aquino expects the death toll to be around 2000-2500 people.

Assessing the damage, reaching those affected, transporting supplies, and helping rebuild a country and its people so that they are better prepared when the next crisis comes are all part of the challenge Caritas organisations are facing going forward in the Philippines.

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Syrian refugees in Jordan: huge strain on medical services

A Syrian refugee receives medical care from Doctor Joseph Shnoudi at a Caritas  Community Centre in Amman, Jordan. Credits: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

A Syrian refugee receives medical care from Doctor Joseph Shnoudi at a Caritas Community Centre in Amman, Jordan. Credits: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

With his final Syria Crisis blog, Caritas Scotland-SCIAF’s Media Officer Val Morgan tells the story of the Caritas doctors dealing with the physical impact of the war

It was heartening to hear that the first thing he became aware of after his home was hit by a bomb was his daughter crying – she was alive.

Initially Nidal had been knocked unconscious whilst he took shelter with his family and neighbours from the bombardment taking place in his suburb of Damascus. Three died in the attack. Nidal was taken to a hospital with severe leg injuries. After three days the hospital came under attack and was eventually destroyed – thankfully Nidal and his family had narrowly escaped again.

I met Nidal in a hospital in Amman, Jordan, where Caritas runs a range of medical services in association with the Italian Hospital. Here, Caritas Jordan provides primary care including an initial medical assessment, treatment and medicine. Secondary healthcare is also provided including referrals to other services and supporting in-patients, for instance, by paying the costs of their medical care.

Cartas Jordan uses the Italian Hospital and four others across the country, together with five migration centres, to provide direct humanitarian aid such as food, cloths, blankets, stoves and fuel. But the increasing demand being placed on Jordan’s healthcare system by the influx of refugees is placing huge strain on services.

Suhad Zarafili of Caritas Jordan told me, “The healthcare system is now very over-crowded. We did not expect to have the high number of Syrian refugees that we have. When we have seen such high demand we have had to establish a new medical centre here in Amman.”

Caritas Jordan has seen a six-fold increase in Syrians needing medical attention in recent months. Dr Khalid Shammas, the Director of the Italian Hospital told me:

“We are used to working with refugees since the Iraq conflict, but the Syrian situation is much worse. I believe the Syrian war will continue to run for several years and the impact on Jordan with last for 20years. The Syrian refugees have lost everything and have nothing to go back to.

“There are more people being referred to us all the time. They have a greater need for medical help, and there’s also more wounded. To deal with the great number of people with diseases related to poverty and war is extremely challenging. We are not used to dealing with this amount of people.

“We also have to deal with people affected by war trauma, those who have lost relatives, and everything they know. We need to treat everything, from the psychological to the physical.”

Thanks to Caritas Jordan and its partners, many thousands of Syrian refugees have received urgent medical care and humanitarian aid at this difficult time.

The demands on the county’s health system and wider society continue to mount, but it would be much worse without the love, care and practical support being provided by the Caritas family.

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A message of love and hope for the Philippines

Sacred Heart of Jesus, great Healer, be with our brothers & sisters!

Sacred Heart of Jesus, great Healer, be with our brothers & sisters!

By +Most Rev. Isao Yama Kikuchi, Regional President of Caritas Asia

To our dear brothers and sisters in the Philippines,

The 23 Caritas member organisations in Asia, along with other Caritas members from other regions that are present in Asia, are one in conveying to you our deepest sympathy and concern for the loss of your loved ones who perished from the wrath of the Super Typhoon Haiyan.

We are deeply saddened by the widespread devastation and loss of lives caused by the typhoon. We hope that in the midst of the great sorrow and pain, you will find comfort in the fact that millions of people, including our Caritas family, are in solidarity with you.

On behalf of the Caritas confederation in Asia, Caritas Asia brings you our message of love and hope, as well as, our prayers and our commitment to lend a helping hand in rebuilding the shattered lives of the typhoon victims.

In our capacity as a Caritas confederation in Asia, we hope and pray that the indomitable spirit that resides within you as a Filipino people, together with your deep faith in God, will continue to be as strong as ever to help you rise above this great tragedy. May you find courage in God and always be reminded that our strength emanates from Him.

Religious sisters helping pack aid for Leyte. Credit: Caritas Manila

Religious sisters helping pack aid for Leyte. Credit: Caritas Manila

We join you in your prayers for the speedy recovery of our brothers and sisters who were battered by the typhoon. May the passage in the scripture that says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me,” [Psalm 23:4] resonate in our prayers, so that we may find courage and hope in these times of sorrow.

As Caritas, we also join the other members of our confederation across the globe in sharing with you our resources, and in exerting our best efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the communities that have suffered the brunt of the typhoon.

Our Caritas family will work side by side with NASSA-Caritas Philippines in delivering timely and appropriate aid to the victims. In close coordination with the affected communities, we will do what best we can to help in alleviating the suffering of the afflicted families; rebuild their lives; and bring back the bright future that awaits them.

Caritas will be with you in these difficult times.

+Most Rev. Isao Yama Kikuchi, Regional President of Caritas Asia

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