Part 9 - Philippines Journey: reaching the destroyed island of Leyte

19 September 2015

As I approach the 2-year anniversary of being in the Philippines, I am completing my writing about the trip.  Here is Part One for a refresher.

Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless when facing them.

Hours later around 4 am, we are awakened by Mom Beth, telling us we have ported and we will be disembarking from the ship and heading inward on the island.  We gathered together for a small planning meeting, everywhere assigned a partner for safety reasons.  Mom Beth selects me, and Mace and Preston are together.  Then we are instructed to grab our gear and head out to the bus.

The bus was already packed with people attempting to get into the islands.  Bags and gear were stacked everywhere, so we took our seats in the back of the bus, and then other members of our crew began passing more of our supplies through the window.  By the time everything was loaded, we were piled up to the ceiling with bags.  Some sitting underneath them, some sitting on top of the piles.

From there, we rode four hours into a small city outside Tacloban.  The name of our destination was Tanauan.

As the sun rose, we were able to see the jungle mountains we were riding through.  The effects of the storm grew more apparent the closer we traveled inland.  As we drove closer and closer, the gradient of catastrophe became striking.  As we reached Tolosa, that last town before Tanauan, Walter said he no longer even recognized this area, having served his mission here just years ago.

It grew worse and worse and was heard to comprehend that this was all real.  Having never seen such destruction, my mind could not grasp that what I was seeing was actuality.  Houses were indiscernible.  What were once tall structures were just now pile of crumpled metal and rubble.  Everything was completely flattened.  The palm trees were frozen in the direction of the blowing typhoon.  There was no sound, just the silence of death.  No birds, no dogs, no ambiance.  It was apocalyptic.

We passed dozens of hungry and shelterless men, women, and children.  Their eyes met ours, as we passed by them on the bus.  They were skeptical if we were a true source of relief, because over a week had passed since the storm, and we were the first relief group to arrive.

The bus drove through Telosa and Tanauan and arrived at our destination.  It was an LDS church that was the only structure left standing.  Even though these buildings are crafted to withstand even the most serious of storms, this church was in pretty bad shape.  Later we were told that during the tsunami, water was fifteen feet high, rushing through the city.  Though the church had been protected by a miracle, the waves splitting and going around the church, leaving the flooding only three feet high for the refugees who had escaped there.

We had to exit the bus through the windows because it was still loaded with so many gears and supplies.  We passed bags and boxes through the windows to each other and carried them into the church.  We worked quickly to get all our items loaded into the church, while many of the refugees who were staying there came out to see what was going on.  They were overjoyed to see us and extended their welcome.

I went to the front of the church and began playing with all the children.  One of them pulled out a basketball and we began to play.  Mace came out and began a more competitive game with them, and a crowd gathered to watch.  It felt good for everyone to laugh and join together.

Meanwhile, ZEDRU had been setting up medical stations inside the church.  We all went back inside, and we were each given a responsibility.  The trained EMT's in our group were assigned to treat injuries and wounds; others were over the pharmacy and prescribing medicine; Preston and I were in charge of taking people's records and vital signs; Walter was to continue organizing the remaining gear; and Mace was to go through the town and call for people who needed medical assistance.

We serviced crowds and crowds of people.  Women brought their children to us, some just newborn babies.  We saw people with mild injuries to severe wounds.  Most people had some sort of injury that needed treating.  Preston and I worked as quickly as possible to check heart rates.  We worked steady for a couple hours.  Then once the crowds began to die down, Mace had returned and began entertaining all of the swarming children with magic tricks.

As I sat and watched him laugh and interact with all the children, I thought again of what a miracle it was that our crew was able to come together with all our resources and get to this island so swiftly.  Otherwise, all these people in front of me would have continued to have neglected wounds.

Once everyone was treated, we shuffled our medical stations away and formed a line for people to receive our care packages.  Walter had stacked our assembled goods against the wall, and we lined up to distribute them.  Families were encouraged to send one member of their household through the line, and as they did, we took turns handing them a care package.  It was such a humbling experience.

Once the crowds had all received a food package for their remaining household, people began to disburse.  It was about 2 in the afternoon by this point.  Our team realized we had not eaten and decided it was finally time to replenish ourselves after a hard morning's work.  We had not eaten since the night before, when we ate dinner in Cebu.

We assembled in the small kitchen of the church and rationed an amount of rice, ramen noodles, and sardines.  No sooner had we finished eating that we were all filled with eagerness to continue our medical mission.

We loaded up all medical supplies we could.  Then our team departed from the church and began walking deeper into the destroyed city.

With not even a downbeat, our medical mission was in full swing.
Upward and onward,


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