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Typhoon Haiyan: Older people share their stories

21 Nov 2013

Marie Selina with her family in the evacuation centre. (c) Rosaleen Cunningham/HelpAge InternationalPeople are on the move. Thousands are evacuating Leyte for Manila and Cebu and we’re planning on working in some of these centres to support older people.

Today we visited an evacuation centre at Baranguay Tinago, Cebu City and will keep visiting over the next few days. The older people we speak to are confused, tired, and traumatised. We have to make sure we're being sensitive and not asking too many questions about what they've been through.

Baranguay Captain Joel Gatigauera was very happy for us to come in and meet people. The centre currently has only seven older people out of over 100, though this number goes up and down as people come and go. It is supported by a team of volunteers including private companies, casual private donors, a medical service and food kitchen. A mobile team of Taiwanese doctors had treated several evacuees.

There is a hot-spot for wifi so people can call relatives and several older people have been picked up here already by their families. Students are running a safe play area in the centre so the place is loud, but joyful, with balloons and bubbles. The building is modern and clean.

Our house was totally destroyed

Marie Selina, 75, from Leyte, told me: "We've been here at this centre four days. Our house back home was totally destroyed as was our corn crop, which we live off. We don't own the land we farm. I am a seamstress and I also made an income from going around my neighbourhood with a basket selling fruit and snacks.

"I'm a widow but I live with my daughter. She has six children. She is separated from her husband but he's contributed nothing since he left so we are very poor. I have other children too and they try to help me but they have very little money. The whole village was affected very badly. We all waited for several days for aid but nothing came. We ate the bananas that had fallen from the trees in the typhoon.

"Some villagers stayed and built makeshift shelters. I've lived in that village since I was a child and I miss it so much. I feel a deep sorrow right now that I am not with my people. If we can get the money to rebuild our house we will go back as soon as we can. That's all I want; to go back."

The storm surge hit us

Crescienca in the evacuation centre. She has been through a lot and said she wanted some counselling. (c) Rosaleen Cunningham/HelpAge InternationalKate from our local partner the Coalition of Services for the Elderly (COSE) and I also spoke to Cresencia, 68, from Tacloban, who said: "I lived alone as I'm a widow but all my four children lived in the neighbourhood. I had a small sari-sari (kiosk) selling snacks for 20 years. It wasn't just an income, it kept me active. But now that's all gone. I lost it and my house.

"The storm surge came and hit us. I was swept into the current but someone carried me and then I held onto an electricity pole. But my daughter, her husband and their child all lost their lives, they're gone."

At this point, she breaks down.

"We heard," she continues, "one typhoon warning but didn't think it would be that severe. After a week we had to get out. We found it hard to find any food and the smell had got so bad. One of my children stayed behind because she has a job in Tacloban but my other children decided we should leave. We hired transport and then took a bus and then the ferry. I never want to go back to Tacloban.

"I want to move into a house as soon as possible here so we can all lead normal lives again. I haven't talked to anyone else about what I've gone through. You are the first. I think I'd like to talk to someone about this. It would be good if someone could come to talk with me. It's noisy here, but I don't mind the noise, and I can sleep at night. I'm getting enough food and I have no health issues. I just want to move into a house."

Donate now

In the UK

Our sister organisation, Age International, has launched an emergency appeal to support older people affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

Or you can text URGENT to 70004 to donate £5 to help older people in the Philippines.

In the USA

Our sister organisation, HelpAge USA, has launched an emergency appeal to support older people affected by Typhoon Haiyan.


If you live outside the UK and the USA you can donate to support older people affected by Typhoon Haiyan here.

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Author profile

Rosaleen Cunningham
Country: Ireland
Job title: Freelance Media and Communications

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.