This post is from Winnie Romeril, who is deployed to the Philippines to help with the Red Cross relief efforts following Typhoon Haiyan
Today I sat with Tito Aure and Lady B. Tito is a university professor who sits on the local Red Cross board and acts as their MC at important events, such as today’s visit of Richard Gordon, Chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross. The microphone Tito grips is repaired with cellophane tape and the cord is woven through his fingers in a special pattern, the only way it will work. “This microphone is a survivor of Yolanda, just like us,” he flashes a wry smile, using the name Philippinos call last November’s killer-storm Typhoon Haiyan.
Tito sent his family to Manila before Yolanda hit. He stayed in Tacloban, working late into the night pre-landfall with hundreds of other Red Cross volunteers packaging food and other relief items for distribution post-landfall. “We knew it was a big storm coming, but we did not understand this term ‘storm surge.’ It’s even hard for us to say, ‘storm surge,’” he slowly enunciates.
“Lady B” as she is known on the air, a.k.a. Evelyn Baccol, owns a local TV channel in Tacloban, Anaton Channel 7, AAC-24. She quickly agrees about the confusing term. “We reported on the storm surge, but no one really understood how it would look. If they had explained to us that it would be like a tidal wave or a tsunami, we would have reported it that way. Then the people would have understood and moved inland. Lives could have been saved.” The storm death toll stands at 6,200 with 1,785 still missing.
Lady B lost all her possessions in the storm- in her home and, it seems more importantly to her, at her office, including all her equipment for broadcasting, interviewing and video recording. She doesn’t talk about the night Yolanda made landfall. I can only imagine why. Harrowing accounts of narrowly escaping from fast-rising ocean waters in your living room and treading water in the dark while your neighbors corpses float by are practically commonplace here in Tacloban. “I was so badly traumatized I could not report on the situation.” She left the city for a while to stay with her parents in Samar, the island to the north. “I am back now, but I still go home often. Having family is so comforting,” she says holding a professional grade camera in one hand, a gift from her daughter who works in Oklahoma.
I ask, “May I take a photo? I want my friends to meet you.”
They lean in for the shot. A pink banner in solidarity with Tacloban from Red Cross chapters across the Philippines serves as a backdrop. “Tell them we are smiling, not like victims, but as survivors. We have survived and we will rebuild,” Tito says. “Please tell everyone you talk to how grateful we are for their prayers, support, every little show of solidarity has meant so much to us. Thank them all.”