PH residents struggle to rebuild their lives after Yolanda

Reuters

Posted at Dec 08 2013 03:29 PM | Updated as of Dec 08 2013 11:29 PM

MANILA - One month after typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) devastated the central Philippines, residents continue to pick up the pieces as they struggle to rebuild their lives.

A young boy and his sister tidy up their families graves at the side of the road in Tanauan town in Leyte Province. The children lost their mother and two other siblings after the typhoon hit. Their bodies are buried next to a busy road, one of the few places cleared of debris, with a wood placard to mark their final resting place.

Elsewhere in Tacloban's San Jose Village, one man has been searching for his family and wife who was pregnant with their third child.

Dandi Pajanilla, who works as a construction worker in the northern province of Bulacan, arrived in Tacloban four days after the storm hit to find his home destroyed and family missing.

In his search for his family he found two bodies. Pajanilla had returned to spend Christmas with his family but has little hope they are still alive.

"It's really sad remembering your loved ones, especially this coming Christmas when they are no longer there. I always ask myself, why God took them away from me?" he said.

Super typhoon Yolanda wiped out or damaged practically everything in its path as it swept ashore on November 8, with seven-meter storm surges destroying around 90 percent of the city of Tacloban in Leyte province alone.

Yolanda killed at least 5,500 people, left more than 1,700 missing, displaced as many as four million and destroyed around $563 million worth of crops and infrastructure.

Most of the dead have not been claimed and have decomposed, forcing the authorities to bury bodies in mass graves.

Reconstruction has started in the provinces of Samar and Leyte, which bore the brunt of the devastation, with basic services back up and running.

However, experts have said the Philippines' post-typhoon reconstruction could take as long as 10 years.

Power has slowly returned in several towns, but most establishments were still out of electricity and rely on generators.

In Marabut town in Samar Province, social workers hand out relief items and tents to displaced residents.

Short-term plans like temporary housing in tent cities and cash for work programs have been set up, while international organizations help the Philippine government plan for long-term rehabilitation.

Villager Emma Ilanes survived the storm with her five children and husband, a soldier involved in rescue operations after Yolanda hit.

She said people are slowly meeting the challenges they face.

"It is up to the people if we can persevere and rise up to the challenges. For now, all I can say is, even though it is slow, people are still rising up," she says.

Nearly 13 billion pesos ($298 million) in cash and relief goods have been pledged so far by countries and donor groups to an overwhelmed government that was criticized for its slow response in the first few days after disaster struck.

University of the Philippines Professor Lydylin Mangada said there was a need for a focus on urban development so future storms could be withstood.

"I hope this is the time of renewal, I hope this is the time for social transformation so we don't go back to our past mistakes. We have always been on ground zero, especially those living in coastal areas. The moment a typhoon hits, we are always back to square one," she says.

The national disaster agency said on Sunday (December 8) that there was about 35 billion pesos (814 million US dollar) worth of damage to infrastructure and agriculture, with more than 1.2 million houses totally or partly destroyed.

The government's initial estimates point to a reconstruction cost of as much as 250 billion pesos ($5.7 billion).

Manila has said new structures in the typhoon-prone areas must be able to withstand winds of 300 kph (186 mph), close to Yolanda's maximum winds when it slammed into Eastern Samar province before crossing the central Philippines.

Sonny Rosal, head of the United Architects of the Philippines which is helping the National Housing Authority (NHA) design stronger houses, said there were challenges related to government buy-outs of landowners in risky areas, reestablishing title and revising the national building code which now specifies that public structures must withstand winds of only up to 250 kph.