Pope euphoria fades quickly in Philippine typhoon zone

TACLOBAN, Philippines (AFP) - Vincent Basiano sang and cheered along with a sea of other joyous typhoon survivors as Pope Francis celebrated mass on a rainy Philippine day, but all too quickly the euphoria passed.

Basiano lost his shanty home when Super Typhoon Haiyan, the most powerful storm recorded on land, claimed thousands of lives in poor fishing and farming communities 14 months ago.

As soon as the pope heard about the disaster, he vowed to travel to the mainly Catholic Philippines and visit the millions of survivors.

On the weekend he fulfilled that commitment, celebrating a deeply emotional mass with Basiano and about 200,000 other people in Tacloban, one of the worst-hit cities.

"While I was there in the presence of the pope, the joy was overflowing," Basiano, 32, told AFP a few hours later as heavy rain fell on his new shanty made of scrap wood and tin.

"But when I got home, it was back to reality. Here comes another typhoon. We try to take this reality in stride, being vulnerable to the dangers of typhoons, but we also need to prepare."

The pope had to cut short Saturday's trip to Tacloban and other areas devastated by Haiyan because of another storm, and he flew back to Manila leaving millions like Basiano to continue with their struggle.

In Basiano's Anibong village in Tacloban, 500 families are crammed into shanties and they were all preparing for another brutal night as Tropical Storm Mekkhala passed.

Haiyan killed or left missing more than 7,350 people, in the deadliest natural disaster of 2013, and it will take many years if not lifetimes for the region to recover.

Scars from Haiyan are still visible across Tacloban, with many still living in temporary shelters, while ruins of homes, buildings and decapitated coconut trees line the roads.

'We are holding on to hope'

In Anibong, the bow of a ship lies beached dozens of metres from the shore, almost touching the highway, a reminder of Haiyan's monster winds and tsunami-like waves that wiped out entire villages.

"If the pope had visited here, he would have been shocked with what he saw," Ofelia Villarmenta, a 37-year-old mother of eight, told AFP.

Villarmenta said she would have loved to have gone to the mass and been blessed by the pope, but she stayed home to pack her family's clothes before they moved out of their tiny home to a storm shelter.

"We have not rebuilt our homes here because we have no money," said Villarmenta, whose fish vendor-husband was out of work for almost a year after Haiyan struck.

Basiano said he was out of work for more than a year after Haiyan as the huge waves demolished the computer school where he taught, forcing him to rely on his meat vendor father, who supports a household of 14.

"We didn't buy clothes and other material things for a year, just rice," said Basiano, who only found work, as a community worker with an aid group, this month.

Villarmenta said she and her husband relocated to Manila after Haiyan but returned to Tacloban several months later.

"We ended up selling fish in Manila like we do here, so we just went home so we can be with family," she said.

Still, Basiano said the pope's visit had given renewed hope to storm survivors, and he said he expected it jolt the government to quicken the painfully slow pace of rebuilding the region.

"Because of the sympathy showed by the pope. We Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors are holding on to hope," he said.

"He gave us a voice and strengthened our faith," he said.

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