TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Six ships that rammed hapless houses a few meters near Anibong Street, stood out among the ruins of Super Typhoon Yolanda in this once vibrant city. Another ship was washed ashore until it reached the street itself.
These ships, transported from the sea to inland, served as mute testament to the full power of the apocalyptic winds and the storm surge that Yolanda whipped up on that fateful morning of Nov. 8.
This is ground zero of Yolanda’s wrath which brought images of destruction never before seen by this generation – images that could have well happened in a well-plotted fictional movie. But this is real life. And life goes on – and must go on – for Yolanda’s survivors.
Last Nov. 29, this ground zero became the center of a massive relief distribution of the Iglesia Ni Cristo where more than a hundred thousand relief packs – each containing four kilos of rice, noodles and canned goods – were given to the typhoon survivors. This was just two days after the INC conducted a massive relief and medical mission in Ormoc City.
The INC’s building of worship, along this street, which had sheltered almost a hundred residents in three barangays in its vicinity at the height of Yolanda’s wrath, became the center of relief distribution and medical mission under the INC’s “Lingap sa Mamamayan.”
Clearing operations along Anibong Street started the previous day with the help of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority so that the trucks containing the food packs and other relief supplies could pass by. But, of course, no amount of clearing equipment could move a ship by the roadside, so they let it be and concentrated on the debris piled up on the road.
The INC’s relief distribution began at around 8 a.m., with people lining up the street fronting the INC chapel, starting early morning. The fast-paced distribution surprised the residents, as there were times that they had to walk fast – even jog – so that more people could be given relief goods.
“This would help us a lot. Thank you very much,” Pete Daroy, 56, said in Tagalog, as he clutched the relief bag that contained the rice that they needed to survive. He came all the way from Palo, Leyte that was equally devastated by Yolanda.
“Can I go back?” he asked as he walked past the volunteers.
Those guarding the lines said they understood their situation and allowed the people to go back in line, provided they would start at the very back.
Demetria Ogario, 52, said she was happy that day as she watched over her small makeshift stall. She was selling some biscuits, coffee and cigarettes along the street, so she could not leave her “store.” It was good that her granddaughter, Jezzel, 9, was able to line up and get a few relief packs.
“With others, it was just a relief bag per family. Here they accept children, and they can even go back,” Ogario said in Tagalog.
Ogario’s house was destroyed by Yolanda but all her family members survived.
Patrocinia Bacoy, 74, said she would never forget Yolanda for the rest of her life. “Everyone did everything to survive,” she said of what happened in the morning of Nov. 8.
But her family was lucky. All of them, even her grandchildren, managed to go to higher ground when Yolanda unleashed her fury. She experienced wading in almost neck-deep waters. She was lucky she survived, she said, although their house is gone now, and so are all their belongings. But they are all safe, even her nephews, her daughter-in-law – who had just given birth when the typhoon struck – and her baby, too.
Bacoy stood by the roadside as all her family members who lined up for relief packs, came one by one, carrying food bags which they heaped beside her. Then, they lined up again.
“This would help us greatly,” she said, as the rice her family got would last for days.
The bags of relief goods were being replenished by the trucks that kept coming in. A barge was hired by the INC to transport at least 17 trucks and other vehicles for the relief and medical mission which was done in cooperation with the Felix Y. Manalo Foundation Inc., the INC’s charitable arm.
“All of this is because of our love for all of you,” said a man in Tagalog, using a megaphone, as the relief bags were piled high on the tables for distribution.
Zedrick Sabusap, 12, and his cousin, Raincel, 10, said their family was grateful that they heeded the warnings of INC officers to get into the INC structure as there would be a powerful storm surge.
“Our house stood here before,” said Sabusap’s mother Rutzyl, 28, pointing to a desolate spot with no standing structure.
“If we did not go inside the Iglesia’s chapel, we could have died,” she said. “The others did not go despite proddings.”
Even Sabusap’s father who had prostate cancer managed to climb up to the INC chapel. Inside, they were safe, she said.
Now, they have rice enough to survive for days, and they are thankful, Sabusap’s mother said.
Before the relief distribution, INC general auditor Glicerio Santos Jr. addressed those gathered in the INC district worship building. He said INC Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo wanted them to know that they should not lose hope even in these times of crisis.
He relayed the executive minister’s message that while the INC church administration would help them in the best way that it could, the best thing that they could do is to pray to God who could do miracles in their lives.
Afterwards, a minister led the prayer for the Yolanda survivors in the INC chapel. This was important to those who were gathered – even more than the food packs that would be shared to them that day.
“This is all very organized. This will be a lot of help for the people of Tacloban City,” said Mayor Alfredo Romualdez Jr., who dropped by just before the relief distribution started. “This will make the people here feel loved and cared for, and this is more important.“
During the relief mission, people were anxious to get their share of relief packs. Some got more than they needed. But in the end, they realized there were lots of people who had not gotten any relief pack yet, and decided to give way to them.
People also lined up for medical checkups, and were given free medicine and vitamins, too. There were also vitamins and medicine for the elderly and babies.
Gregorio Millano, 77, had his leg treated for an infected wound that was previously stitched by a Korean medical team near the airport. He was thankful that there were medical volunteers from the INC mission who came near his home, as walking long distances brought him pain, he said.
Before lunchtime, more than a hundred thousand relief packs had been distributed. And people went home with wide smiles on their faces.