Haiyan Field Report: Listening to Survivors

To assess needs, personal contact is critically important.

Emergency Response Manager, Kate Dischino, traveled to the Philippines on November 12 to join our Typhoon Haiyan response team, working with partners on the ground to help meet the immediate needs of survivors.

“With an enormous disaster like Haiyan, it’s critical to be on the scene,” Kate explained. “In Manila, my colleagues and I quickly made contact with the government and other disaster relief groups to coordinate travel and assessments.”

Because the Philippines are spread over thousands of islands with only a few connected by road, ground travel in and around the disaster zone posed significant challenges. Kate secured a seat on a commercial aircraft and met one of our shipments of emergency medicines going from Cebu to one of the few functioning hospitals in Tacloban and then drove through the city to get a first-hand look at the situation.

“To assess needs, personal contact is critically important,” said Kate. “Even a week after the disaster, bodies were still being pulled from wreckage and body bags were a common and heart-wrenching sight along the roads. I’ve seen destruction before, but never so much loss of life. I felt intensely how vulnerable we all are and how quickly our lives can change.”

Outside Tacloban, amid rain showers and smoke from burning debris, Kate visited the devastated neighborhoods to talk to survivors. While some were sheltering in churches and schools, other survivors were living under dripping tarps in the shells of soaked and battered homes.

“People came out to the street to talk to me; I asked how they were, what they needed and where they could get medical care,” said Kate. “About 15 miles outside Tacloban in San Antonio, I met one man who had a severe cut on his finger; he’d bandaged it with a plastic wrapper held with a rubber band. Before the storm, he had relied on a nearby health center, now destroyed. For any health care, he would have to travel more than 6 kilometers -- not easy when roads were impassable and gasoline scarce.”

In damaged hospitals and rural health centers in Samar and Leyte, Kate met doctors and nurses working through their own trauma:  One doctor had lost 11 family members who had been gathered for a party when the storm hit. Another had just sent her children to live with relatives in Manila, safely out of the disaster zone. 

I’ve seen destruction before, but never so much loss of life: I felt intensely how vulnerable we all are and how quickly our lives can change.

“I was glad to be able to help them better address the needs of their patients by directing medicines and supplies to their hospitals,” she explained. “Whenever I found a cell phone signal, I pulled to the side of the road to email the doctors’ needs to our teams coordinating shipments in Manila and Cebu.”

Kate noted that even north of Tacloban, where health centers were still standing, lack of power was a huge issue. Doctors were concerned about delivering babies safely; without power, it was too risky to perform cesarean sections. There, in the field, our team began planning to provide generators that damaged health centers could use immediately and for future disasters.

“Today, I can see my team’s early field work being put to use,” said Kate. “We provided medicines to treat diabetic patients who would have otherwise lost limbs, a wheelchair for an elderly patient who would not have been able to maintain his independence because he couldn’t afford a replacement, and generators for hospitals to help doctors safely deliver babies. With our plans and funding, rebuilding has begun on several clinics in the area.”

“I know AmeriCares contributions will help many for years to come and I’d love to return to the islands to visit the brave survivors I was privileged to meet.”