By Mary Joy Evalarosa

James Dean Dait, 22, was on duty as a Philippine Red Cross volunteer when Typhoon Mangkhut hit very early on 15 September. Just hours before it made landfall, he had attended a pre-disaster meeting at the Ilocos Norte chapter on the northwestern tip of Luzon where the Red Cross team discussed how they would respond do the category 4 typhoon, the world’s strongest so far in 2018.

“I went back to the boarding house where the team was staying. Around 1 am, I woke up to loud banging. I peeked out the window and saw debris flying about. I couldn’t sleep afterwards. I was awake for 48 hours. I couldn’t get a proper sleep in case they needed us to help rescue.”

It would be many hours before the medical technology graduate of Saint Louis University in Baguio found out the plight of his mother, sister, and their pigs and home.

At daylight, the team braved strong winds and rain, to check on people staying in local shelters. Across the danger zone in the path of the 900km wide storm, known locally as Ompong, 350,000 people sheltered in evacuation centres, according to government data, as part of a massive disaster preparedness programme.

“We checked on the status of the evacuation centers, which took us several hours because some of the roads were not accessible and we had to go around. We then distributed blankets and towels for adults and children, and helped prepare soup to give people a hot meal.”

“The evacuation centers – they were cramped with families. Some of the rooms had a maximum of 15 families per classroom.”

It was James Dean Dait’s first experience responding to a disaster since joining as a volunteer in April. He has been a Red Cross youth instructor since July 2017, and is now in a vocational school training to be a caregiver.

“In one of the evacuation centers we visited, I saw a paralyzed man in his late 60s and his wife who were having difficulty going into their assigned evacuation room.  it was there I was able to put my caregiving course to practice. We helped them get settled in the room.”

Meanwhile, the cellphone signal was down and James Dean Dait didn’t know how his family was. His mother and sister had joined the exodus to shelters. Finally, he heard that they were safe. Their home was a different story.

“When I found out what happened to our house, I wanted to go home right away. The roof was completely blown off, walls cracked under the strong winds. A lot of our things can’t be used now – they either blew away in the wind or are soaked wet from the rains. We didn’t expect our province and Baguio or Benguet to be hit so hard. It was a surprise to us that the impact would be this bad.”

“My mom’s source of income is raising pigs and selling the piglets. It’s not much, but enough to meet my mom’s monthly needs. Some months, my mom would be lucky if the sow gives birth to a lot of piglets. We can sell the piglets for an average of 2,700-3500 Philippines pesos (about 37 US dollars), but there are other costs – vitamins and daily feed.

“Before the storm, she took the three female pigs she’s been raising into the kitchen. These were the first things she checked when she got back home. To raise money to rebuild, we might need to sell our pigs. My siblings and I will pitch to help, I guess.”

“I’m very thankful my family is safe and alive. Our things can be replaced, but not our lives,” he said.

While the full impact of the storm, which brought gusts of up to 285km/h is still being assessed, it is already clear that, for many of an estimated 665,806 people affected by Mangkhut, repairing their homes and restoring their incomes are top priorities.

Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon said, “Right now, we are committed to working hand in hand to help people recover as fast as possible. As the clean-up begins, we’re worried how families will cope over the coming weeks and months. Their income from farming and fishing will be drastically reduced, making it almost impossible for low-income families to repair their homes or even feed their families. That’s why our focus is on supporting them to recover, with dignity.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has launched an emergency appeal, seeking 2.7 million Swiss francs (152 million Philippines pesos) to support Philippines Red Cross to assist 100,000 people for 12 months. The plan covers health, including psychosocial support and nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene promotion; livelihoods, including cash; shelter; disaster risk reduction; protection, gender and inclusion; migration; and Philippine Red Cross capacity enhancement.

Rebuilding is also a top priority for survivor Beatrice Viernes, who lives in the town of Buguey, in Cagayan province, where the monster storm made landfall. They made good preparations – and then had to hope.

“They asked to evacuate into a more safe, higher area. We prepared ahead, we made sure we had food like rice, packed noodles, canned goods, biscuits for the kids, enough food to sustain us through the storm. The power was out since last week, so we bought flashlights too.

“We prayed that the storm would stop so that our homes would not be damaged any further.

“It’s a small house, and we secured the roof with ropes, but the storm was too strong.

“After the storm, we came back to see what happened to our house. We saw a lot of damaged homes along the way. Then we saw our house, completely destroyed. We need wood, nails so we can start rebuilding again.”