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British relief worker: Typhoon victims 'incredibly resilient' people

MANILA, Philippines - Officers and crew of British ship HMS Illustrious have ended their relief mission in the country and will bring home with them memories of “incredibly resilient” people who smile despite the tragedy that hit them.

The Royal Navy helicopter carrier left Manila Thursday morning after a two-week relief operations in typhoon-ravaged areas, a task that the ships’ officials described as an “inspiring experience.”

“It has been an amazing story and experience for the ship’s company to see the resilience of the people of Panay in particular where we were operating,” said Capt. Mike Utley, the ship’s commanding officer, told reporters last Wednesday.

“Everywhere we went, people were prepared to work hard to get their villages and their communities back together. It was inspiring for everybody,” he added.

Air workers also praised the typhoon victims’ positive disposition despite the widespread impact of “Yolanda,” the strongest cyclone to hit the Philippines.

“[They are] extraordinary people… I went ashore every single day to the places we were operating and everywhere I went, everyone smiles despite the sometimes horrific destruction, you know, 90 or 95 percent of their homes were destroyed but they still smile,” Utley said.

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Abigail Perry, humanitarian adviser of the United Kingdom’s (UK) Department for International Development (DFID), recalled how the typhoon victims appreciated the aid workers’ efforts.

“(There was an) initial sense of shock because of what happened to them but they were so welcoming. There were various signs saying ‘thank you’ to the teams on the ground. It was quite an emotional thing,” Perry said.

“It was an incredible welcome an incredible reaction and yes an incredibly resilient people,” she added.

HMS Illustrious or “Lusty” arrived in the Philippines last November 25 to deliver vital supplies and to provide ‘hands on’ help to Filipinos living in remote islands hit by the typhoon.

The aid mission in the Philippines is one of the last tasks of the 35-year old ship, which is scheduled to be decommissioned next year.

“With commercial operations increasingly able to meet the requirements of the Philippines, there is a decreased reliance on military assets and it is right that we return to our long planned commitments around the world,” said Commodore Clive Walker, commander of the UK Joint Task Force I the Philippines.

The DFID will continue to coordinate the British contribution to the government’s relief efforts.

”I think I will pay tribute to the government and the people for their resilience because if we look at the number of casualties, tragic as that is, the reality is when we compare that to the number of those who died in the Indonesian tsunami its relatively small,” said DFID team leader John Adlam.

The death toll from “Yolanda” has reached almost 6,000 but it is way smaller than that of the tsunami in Indonesia, which left more than 200,000 persons dead in 2004.

Lusty’s company of 650 officers and personnel and 300 additional troops from other major services have also repaired buildings, cleared debris, and delivered medical care to various parts of Visayas.

During the two-week mission, the ship has delivered 154 tons of stores, 142 tons of food and 15,869 tarpaulins. About 40,000 people benefited from the humanitarian mission.

“It’s an experience that the ships’ company will never forget,” Utley said.

Trevor Lewis, charge d'affaires of the British embassy, said their government would work closely with Philippine authorities to determine how they can help in the recovery efforts.

“What we need to avoid is overlap of efforts, duplication of efforts and duplication of resources. We need to make sure that what we do meet the requirements of the government and also meet the requirements of the international community,” Lewis said.

“We are still confident that the aid we have distributed to the Philippines have reached the people that needs to be reached and we will continue to work with the government and the NGOs (non-government organizations) to make sure that remains the case.”

The British government’s contribution to the humanitarian efforts has exceeded £60 million while that of the British public has reached £73 million.

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