29 December 2011
Linda Tiongco, Christian Aid's north west regional manager, was in the Philippines on holiday visiting her husband when Washi struck.
Linda has been involved in the humanitarian response, and has been providing us with regular updates.
Most recently she sent us a moving audio report describing the generosity neighbours are showing one another in the affected areas.
This follows her written account sent in the immediate aftermath of the storm, which you can read below.
Audio Listen to Linda's update
23 December 2011
It's been a long day. We left Damulog, where my husband is the mayor, at 4am and arrived in Cagayan at 9.30am.
I had just arrived in the Philippines for a month’s vacation when Typhoon Washi hit. I’m normally based in Warrington for Christian Aid.
Driving the 180km between the two cities took well over five hours. Along the way we were held up by 11 major road works as they upgrade the national highway. When we arrived in Cagayan we went straight into meetings with the local government. Christian Aid’s partner, MuCAARD, is the only local NGO accredited to attend the UN disaster coordination meetings.
These meetings are tedious, but they are vital to minimise duplication. In the afternoon we had another meeting with local NGOs to update them and discuss, using their local knowledge, how they can make sure that no community is overlooked. This is all very dry and calculated, but important to ensure that we reach the most vulnerable.
After the meetings, we went across the bridge to Carmen and I was speechless. Last Friday afternoon, I drove over the same bridge with the dirty brown Cagayan river 30ft below and the banks overflowing with shanty towns. Now there is absolutely no sign that people had ever lived there. Just mud and debris, logs and even container vans littering the area.
Several of our friends barely escaped with their lives. Gemma, a previous staff member of MuCAARD, who is alive because neighbours woke them up as the waters started to rise. Her legs are still stained and bruised by the water as they battled the current to get out, and she is alive because when she fell a man nearby was able to reach out and catch her. Over 1,000 people were not so lucky.
I fear it is not just the torrential rain which is to blame for the tragedy. Two years ago nearly 500 people were killed in a similar flash flood. Why? The people of Cagayan have campaigned for years to stop the mining and logging in the watershed of the river. Mining for commodities like gravel, to upgrade the road I travelled on this morning.
And then there are the pineapple and banana plantations, which are planted in such way that when it rains, all the water runs straight off, exacerbating flooding. Ask my brother-in-law. He has had to stop planting corn on his land near a plantation because when it rained his fields were flooded.
Agencies like Christian Aid can help the survivors with emergency relief and later there will be help with shelter and rehabilitation. But it is important not to lose sight of the factors which are increasing people’s vulnerability in the first place.