Massive Typhoon Plows Through the Philippines

Bailey Smith, Staff Writer

The biggest storm to ever reach land hit the Philippines a little over two weeks ago. According to NBC news, the death toll has reached 5,200. Many are suffering and few are receiving aid.

Samar, the hardest hit island by the storm (referred to as “Yolanda” by the Filipinos), was almost completely demolished. And food is in short supply. After the storm subsided, many inhabitants looted food supply stores in order to provide for their families.

It was unsafe for many to leave their homes and shelters because of the “looters.” Because the Philippines is so poverty stricken, people will do just about anything to acquire food and water.

Native born Filipino and Orinda resident Gina Armstrong-Smith was in contact with her family throughout the natural disaster.

“I tried to call my Auntie Minda as soon I had knowledge of the typhoon. Days had passed before I was able to reach her, which was very frightening for me and my family,” Armstrong-Smith said.

Minda Tennant, Armstrong-Smith’s aunt, was visiting her family in the Philippines when the storm took place.

“I was staying with my brother on the island of Samar,” Tennant said. “My husband called me from Michigan asking me to travel to Manila; he said he’d feel more secure knowing I was staying in one of the shelters in the capital. Something told me I needed to stay right where I was, and I’m lucky I did.”

It was fortunate Tennant chose to remain in Lawaan throughout the storm. The journey to Manila would have been a very unsafe one.

“There’s a chance I wouldn’t have survived if I’d decided to travel to Manila during the storm; I would have needed to pass through Tacloban, where many people were killed by the typhoon,” Tennant said.

Tennant stayed with her brother Mateo Gavan in Lawaan, a small town on the island of Samar right outside Tacloban – which was directly hit by the eye of the storm. Many inhabitants in Tacloban perished as a result of the typhoon.

“My brother recently built a home in Lawaan. It’s extremely sturdy, as my brother built it with the threat of a typhoon in mind,” said Tennant. “The house endured the storm and consequently, so did my brother and I. Many people came together during the storm to help one another. We took in 31 inhabitants who remained with us throughout the storm.”

“It’s very difficult hearing about the destruction in a place where the majority of my family lives,” Armstrong-Smith said. “I grew up on the island of Samar – I was raised there. Now, the majority of the people there are in peril, and it’s extremely difficult for people to travel from island to island.”

Tennant indicated how challenging it was for her to travel back to Manila after the storm. It had been three days since the typhoon hit before it was safe to make the journey, and it took an additional three days for Tennant and her brother to travel from Lawaan to Manila.

“I needed to get back to the U.S., but the journey was not easy,” Tennant said. “We had to take various forms of transportation: motorcycles, ferries and numerous buses. It was a difficult journey. There were bodies everywhere, which was very hard to see. My brother and I were fortunate enough to encounter a family that helped us find food and water.”

Tennant knew she’d be better able to support her family in the Philippines from her home in the United States than she would be if she remained in the Philippines.

Luckily, Tennant and her brother were able to travel to Manila; she made it safely back to her home in Michigan where she and the rest of her family are sending money, over-the-counter medicines, and anything else that will help the victims of the typhoon to the Philippines.

Slowly but surely, the Filipinos are starting to receive the aid they so desperately need.  As difficult as things may seem at times here in the U.S., there are people who are experiencing hardships far beyond our understanding across the world. Hopefully, we can all come together to support those who are suffering.