Journal from an EMT

“The plane takes off as I look at the dozen or so C-130’s parked along the runway. Each being filled to the brim with boxes stamped with USAID, UNICEF, WFP, or WHO. Each destined for a moonscape barely an hour away but light years away from the pristine airport they will leave.

Tranquil teal water stretches below as the puffy white clouds accent the perfect blue sky. The incredible efforts by the The handshakes and hugs given by ticket counter agents, security guards and baggage carousel handlers speaks volumes of the deep love and appreciation of the Pilipino people for the multitude of aid agencies pouring into Tacloban.

As we cross over the island of Leyte the colors change as we get closer to Tacloban. Deep greens give way to grey browns, blue water seems a big lighter grey and the foliage is as if wiped by a dirty paint brush, smudging what was once clear and distinct.

I’ve seen pictures and video but I know at the base level I’m not prepared. The lavish accommodations I’ve slept in the past two nights are vastly different than what I’ll experience here. My hammock and mosquito net will be my new companions. Bottled water and rice and beans will be my daily fair. Electricity and ac a distant memory as the humidity embraces each breathe with a smothering dampness.

Even though the climate is the norm for the residents the thought of being brutally beaten by 180+ mph winds for hours on end with torrential deluges and sea surge only to be left scrambling for food and clean water in what is left of the devastation is hard to stomach.

The airport looks like the remnant of some battle field. Twisted and sheared metal are pealed back from the building. The trees are but trunks, devoid of any vegetation. Muddy stagnant water in what remains of the baggage claim and the rolling of the baggage cart through what was once a wall only adds to the surrealism.

The parking lot a morass of twisted metal piles and NGO vehicles each with printed signs taped/strapped to the hood. Meeting up with several teams from the US who are heading home I find out further information. Team Rubicon out of LA has been here for almost two weeks, mainly involved with rescue and recovery. They were still in the process of body recovery but their time has run out. People who have been injured are staying at their homes or what was left of them because of fear of looters.

I meet up with AMENs team and we head to a local hospital which is run by the conference office in coordination with ACTS out of Miami. They allow us to store our vaccines at their hospital pharmacy because we don’t have the capacity to refrigerate the whole batch of tetanus.

We all arrive at the house we’ll be calling home base for the next week and do inventory and start praying about where exactly we should set up camp an how to best treat the people that are sheltered in place.

The majority of those with the means or family outside of Leyte have already left. Those who are left behind are those who have no where else to go.

The streets are clogged with vehicles trying to navigate rubble strewn highways. I have to make it back over to Cebu tonight so I can ferry more gear tomorrow. The US military has stopped their flights for the day and are packing up to go back to Okinawa soon.

Civilian flights have lines a mile long so I opt for catching the overnight ferry on the other side of the island. Catching a van for the two hour ride I squeeze myself into a space meant for a much smaller person. The next two hours is as if I’m watching a movie out the window. Crumbling concrete, twisted sheet metal, flipped vehicles of all sizes, and burning piles of rubble are a constant. Seeing 50+ ft boats tossed a half mile or more inland is just absurd to see. High water marks on McDonalds and the local hotel show well over 12ft of storm surge.

I arrived at the port for the overnight ferry and it was completely booked for that night and the entire next day. After a brief prayer I walked around and found a security guard who was talking to a family. I asked about a ticket and was able to buy one off of the family who no longer needed both of them. Praise God for providing a way. Trying to sleep was impossible and it turned into a 20 min out 45 min wide awake 5 hour overnight journey.

Arrived safe back in Cebu to ferry more gear over today. Lots of prayers as I try to find a way to get gear over there without paying $100 a box.”