Life starts up again as relief efforts continue

Businesses are reopening, many services are coming back online

MORE businesses – from banks to grocery stores – are reopening, two weeks after Super Typhoon Haiyan damaged almost 95 per cent of Ormoc city in Leyte province.

Traffic flow is much smoother now that the roads have been cleared, city councillor Ruben Capathi told The Straits Times at the relief operations centre in City Hall yesterday. Water supply is also no longer a problem, he noted.

Just a week ago, media reports said people were rushing to buy ferry tickets to leave Ormoc. Yesterday morning, there was an orderly queue at the ferry terminal.

“Just a few days ago, people were still camping outside the ferry terminal for tickets,” said Mr Remorta Benigo, 34, a security guard there.

“There were people from Tacloban going to Cebu who waited at least three days.”

Mr Expedito Sabanal, 34, who works at the ticket booth, said people were begging him for tickets even after he told them the tickets were all sold out.

“It happened two days after the typhoon. There was no food because the stores were closed. People were getting hungry and they needed food and water. Cebu was their only hope. There was no plane, only ferries,” he recalled.

Yesterday, people were able to buy tickets for same-day travel. They went on sale at 6am and were all gone by 12.30pm.

Said Mr Sahari Ani, 50, who arrived in Ormoc last week as part of a Singapore Red Cross (SRC) relief mission: “Last week, water was still a problem. Now, you can see people queuing up outside grocery stores and also at petrol kiosks. Businesses have resumed and people are moving on.”

The City Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Council’s latest update said four of five hospitals are functioning partially.

Dr Vivien Lim, who helps run the SRC’s mobile clinics in Ormoc, visited the Ormoc District Hospital and was happy to see how fast the medical relief teams had set up a temporary tentage.

“They have an operating theatre, a recovery room, a labour ward, an inpatient ward... all in front of the hospital,” she said.

Ms Serene Chia, 56, who heads community services at the SRC, noted: “The health emergency response unit was set up outside the hospital by Canadian and Norwegian Red Cross teams. Mercy Malaysia was also there to provide outpatient care. But there are still people outside in the community who need health care, and we are reaching out to them through our mobile clinics.”

Despite the progress, telecommunication remains patchy.

Yesterday was the second day that relief workers at City Hall were able to get Internet access, although it was limited, Mr Capathi told The Straits Times.

“Mobile phones are also working better. We were told to expect some lights in the city tonight. Today is better than yesterday.”

Ormoc has picked itself up so quickly, he noted, that it is now the hub for relief missions. Mr Jesper Holmer Lund, who heads the emergency services branch of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said he was most impressed by the resilience of the Filipino people. “The life-threatening part is over. People are moving forward. We need to assist them in rebuilding their homes,” he said. joycel@sph.com.sg