Love offers new dreams for Philippine typhoon survivors

TACLOBAN, Philippines (AFP) - Jovelyn Luana and Joel Aradana plan to light candles at a mass grave to mark one year since Super Typhoon Haiyan stole both their families, but they will do it hand-in-hand, sharing a new love that promises fresh dreams.

Luana lost all of her six children and her husband of 13 years when Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, thundered across her coastal town in the central Philippines.

About one kilometre away, the same immense storm surges that savaged Luana's future also destroyed Aradana's shanty fishing home as they carried his wife and two of his children to oblivion.

The storm on Nov 8 killed or left missing more than 7,350 people, the world's deadliest natural disaster last year, as it laid to waste dozens of already poor farming and fishing communities.

For the next few months, Luana and Aradana endured with hundreds of thousands of other typhoon survivors tormenting grief. Luana would have killed herself except she could not find anywhere high enough to tie a rope that had been scavenged from rubble.

Then they found each other.

- Power of two -

They met at a cash-for-work programme run by a foreign aid group six months ago, with a joke from the incomprehensibly effervescent Luana borne from their similar first names and shared tragedies an unlikely icebreaker.

"I told him: 'I am a Jo, you are a Jo. I am a widow and you are also a widower. So we were meant for each other'," Luana said with a big smile as they stood outside their shanty hut recently just a few metres from the sea on the outskirts of Tacloban, one of the worst hit cities.

Luana, 31, said she unexpectedly felt hope after meeting Aradana, nine years her senior. "I realised we both had similar values... and he is loving, he is caring, he is responsible," Luana said, pointing out Aradana worked hard as a fisherman and construction worker, yet also helped do the laundry and cook. "He would make a good father."

Aradana cited companionship and the power of two over one as initial attractions. "Since she likes me and I like her, I told her it is much better that we live together so we can move on with our lives together, rather than doing it alone," said Aradana, who speaks much more quietly than Luana and is seemingly less able to mask sadness.

- Sharing pain -

Their shared experiences have indeed proved a vital adhesive in the early months of their relationship. "We talk to each other about our losses," Luana said. "There is a lot of sharing. We share both happiness and loneliness."

Luana's lost children were aged from 19 months to 12 years. Her mother, a sister, three nieces and nephews, as well as her best friend, also died in the storm.

Most of the bodies of Luana's dead family members were found in the days and weeks after the typhoon, discoveries which she said helped her heal.

Aradana's pain has been exacerbated by not finding the bodies of his wife, his only son aged 7, and a 13-year-old daughter.

He still has two younger daughters, living then and now with grandparents in another province, and an elder daughter who is working elsewhere.

"I would have wanted to kill myself too, if it wasn't for them," Aradana said.

- Deeper poverty -

Haiyan also crippled Aradana and Luana financially. The couple's new home is in one of the typhoon-affected areas' newly declared "danger zones" in which people are not legally allowed to live but where tens of thousands of the poorest Haiyan survivors do.

Luana could not return to her job as an appliance saleswoman and a year later the only work she can find is giving pedicures, manicures or massages to neighbours in their slum community for the equivalent of about one dollar a session.

Aradana occasionally gets construction work for about eight dollars a day, or if not goes fishing using a boat donated by an aid group then sells his meagre catches at the local market.

They rent their hut, made of scavenged typhoon debris and a tarpaulin from an international relief group, for 200 pesos (S$5.70) a month. The government plans to relocate hundreds of thousands of people from danger zones, but no one has told Luana and Aradana if they will be included.

An initial flood of food and other relief goods dried up months ago. For a recent breakfast of noodles and vegetables, Luana added a single prawn given to her by a neighbour.

"It is really hard for us to rebuild again, we lost everything... it is as if we are back to zero," Luana said as she sat outside after breakfast on a small stool painting a neighbour's toenails a shiny purple, earning enough for one more meal.

- A new family -

But the rebuilding has begun. They are planning to get married, and Luana is expecting their first child in May next year. "I am so happy I am pregnant," Luana said as she stood holding hands with Aradana on the concrete slab of a typhoon-destroyed house next to their shanty.

"I am longing for a big family. Just like before... I miss the noise of the children."

When asked about his thoughts on Luana's pregnancy, Aradana expressed another form of haunted joy.

"I am hoping it will be a boy because I lost my only son," he said.