AMURT (Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team) was one of the first NGOs on the ground after the super-typhoon.
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Here’s a letter from Dada Dharmavedananda, written soon after the typhoon struck:
First came the greatest earthquake that any of us had ever experienced.
Our relief work was still going on for the survivors, when only 3 weeks after the quake, came super typhoon Yolanda, or as known elsewhere hurricane Haiyan.
This one was said to be the strongest hurricane in world history.
In the beginning hours the news was scattered and mostly in the form of rumors , with electricity cut all over this part of the country. In the worst hit areas even cell phone coverage was wiped out.
At least in our Ananda Marga Wellness Center and in the Yoga Center in Cebu the only losses were numerous trees ripped out by their roots, and the trauma of seeing countless objects roaring past our doorways and windows. In the midst of it, a heartfelt strong kiirtan enabled our own fears to subside. But when the winds diminished we found some of the neighbors roofs blown off, including the homes of some of our own staff.
And then it was quiet, and yet still news only came in drops and dribbles. Apparently at that point the outside world still knew more than we did.
It is now midnight Tuesday. Yesterday morning we sent a team to survey the damage in northern Cebu Province, where the Eye directly passed.
Yesterday evening we sent a team by specially charted ship to survey Tacloban.
And this morning we sent another team to the already surveyed northern Cebu Province – this time with food for the suffering.
The Tacloban team had a tough time even reaching there. To get there we partnered with the Federation of Volunteers through Radio Communication (FVRC), of which the Chief Officer is our close friend. The FVRC is one of the first to go to any catastrophe area, as other communication systems are usually down. The ship arrived in Hilongos, due to the danger of sailing directly into Tacloban, where at least 10,000 were already dead. From Hilongos the 140 kilometer trip was by 4-wheel drive jeeps, and it took many hours not only because of trees across the road, but especially because of numerous people lying on the road – people who wanted to stop and then ambush the jeeps and steal whatever food and water was on board. But our staff and partners had wisely hidden their foodstuffs, and so gradually they passed through that test.
They reported that from the half way mark until finally arriving in Tacloban – 99% of the houses and structures were demolished. Try to imagine that.
In the city they temporarily established a base in the damaged but still standing city hall, and from that time we began intensive communication with our team leader, Avaniish. Approximately in his words:
“The faces of the people look completely blank – like zombies. The damage is 10 times beyond the earthquake (where he had also worked for many days). Debris is piled everywhere, and the smell of death is unavoidable. All the government offices are wiped out, no where to turn for protection. The military only to be found at the airport. Here they are in the worst need for food.”
Then he joked that even though shops had been ransacked for food, at least while stealing gas from the gas stations everyone was patiently standing in line.
And so we have made a plan to borrow $5000 to purchase food tomorrow (Wednesday) for Tacloban, and are arranging military escort and a ship – hopefully by tomorrow itself. We will most likely send it with cooking equipment and served it cooked, as people simply have no stoves to prepare uncooked materials we might give them.
It will be far from sufficient, but at least it is a start.
As to the team that went this morning to northern Cebu Province: Our van had less than a 3 hour drive before encountering a scene hardly better than Tacloban. Again most of the houses leveled to the ground. Children and adults standing in the road begging for food and water. The only difference from Tacloban was that not so many had died because there had been no storm surge, so no drowning. But the hurricane winds had done their work with equal power, demolishing almost everything in sight. Tens of thousands of houses were destroyed.
Our contacts were in Bogo City, precisely where the Eye had passed. No government workers, no non-governmental workers had been there to help them. We were the first on the site, and the people were overwhelmed with happiness to see our volunteers. We brought cooking equipment, and a small amount of food, enough to serve 600 people. Upon receiving the food, many cried and embraced those serving. In fact it was painful not to be able to help others.
And so tomorrow we will borrow another $2000 to purchase food for the north, and likewise serve it to them cooked.
More days of great need will follow.
Our global and sectorial AMURT staff are doing what they can to drum up support. We shall likewise do all we can to serve as many as we can according to the funds sent.
Later when the threats of starvation and disease are less pressing, we shall think about house rebuilding and other long-term works.