By Dennis Sadowski
TACLOBAN, Philippines — The massive piles of rubble are disappearing from the streets of this city of 240,000, but plenty of evidence of destruction remains from November’s Typhoon Haiyan in every corner of town.
On our arrival Feb. 4 people could be seen rebuilding homes in areas smashed by the storm, using what material they could scavenge from what rubble does remain. The combined force of wind and storm surge had leveled large areas of the city, and people were using just about anything that was usable to rebuild.
Children could be seen alongside adults cutting wood to size or digging through piles of rubble looking for just the right piece of material to use. Workers moved carefully on steep rooftops piecing together materials — some new and some recycled — to render a home or business more usable.
The most devastated areas were filled with tents clustered closely together. Clothing hung on lines drying in the hot sun. Women cooked dinner. Some families operated small businesses in a tiny shack, mostly offering snacks, drinks and light food.
An afternoon downpour demonstrated people’s vulnerability to the elements. Although brief, water quickly filled the streets, muddying pathways through the camps and neighborhoods. But people never flinched, knowing that rain like this is common. It’s the typhoons and tropical storms that worry them far more.
One scene was reminiscent of what I saw a half a world away in Haiti in 2010 following that country’s massive earthquake. On one corner, a work crew was shoveling debris into a wheelbarrow, then hoisting it onto a dump truck. In these dozen workers I saw another dozen or so men in Haiti clearing the concrete rubble of a bank building in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. A dump truck was parked nearby.
Same work, same sounds of shovels against pavement, different workers.
Rebuilding poses a challenge in the typhoon zone, explained Elizabeth Tromans, regional technical adviser for emergency preparedness and response in East and South Asia for Catholic Relief Services. Few supplies are making their way to the city, and even fewer to rural communities, she said. What does get through is too costly for most people to afford.
Even the Catholic Church can ill afford supplies. At the city’s well known Santo Nino Church, where Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, celebrated Mass after the downpour, the floors were covered in water that had leaked into the building. Tarps cover almost the entire roof of the church and cannot hold out all of the rain. Worshippers sat in areas where water was not falling and walked carefully through slippery areas to receive Communion. For the 250 or so people at Mass, faith remained more important than the elements.
The archbishop, leading a delegation of U.S. church leaders observing the recovery efforts in typhoon zone, credited the Filipinos for their perseverance and fortitude in the face of disaster. He reiterated a common message expressed during the trip: that the church working together can help people in need overcome the difficulties posed by the storm.