By Neal Deles, Caritas Internationalis Emergency Response Team
Having worked for U.S. Caritas member Catholic Relief Services in disaster-affected countries in Africa the past five years, I never thought that I would come back home to the Philippines to assist with the Caritas-wide response to Typhoon Haiyan.
The northern towns in my island of Negros were badly hit by the typhoon. As I closely followed the news, I felt I had to assist in some way. So a week later I was in the Philippines as part of the Caritas Internationalis emergency response.
I’ve been to Mogadishu and drove through remains of villages in Darfur. Still, I was not prepared to see the devastation caused by the wind and water in Leyte and Panay. Collapsed houses, roofs caved in and the smell of decomposing bodies.
It was heartbreaking to hear stories of lives lost, of fathers unable to hold on to their children as the water surged, of children searching for their parents or even of tearful reunions as mothers return home to find their children alive.
In Palo, the diocesan driver told us how he huddled together with his family at the height of the storm as their roof was blown away and watched in fear as three big waves came in succession towards their village, engulfing homes, schools and other buildings.
He speaks in between coughs, apologising that he’s slept under the rain days after the typhoon, remembering neighbours now dead or still missing and grateful at the same time that his family survived.
While the international response has been overwhelming and we hold so many good people from around the world in deep regard, many outside the Philippines have also not been aware of the response provided by Filipinos.