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South East Asia: Survivors' stories

05 Nov 2009

For millions of people in South East Asia the past two months have been a living nightmare. Typhoons Ketsana and Parma devastated vast areas of Vietnam and the Philippines, and Indonesia has been rocked by earthquakes.

Only a few days ago, another typhoon, Mirinae struck the region leaving seven people dead and destroying 2,000 homes in the Philippines alone. Although relief and aid are being distributed, the road to recovery will be long.

When reading about such disasters, it is sometimes hard to picture the situation, the emotions and reactions of the people involved. What would I do if my house was flooded, if I lost my business or even worse, a relative or a loved one?

The best way to understand the effects of these destructive events is by hearing what it's like for those who have lived through them. Here are just a few incredible stories of hope and survival from the people we have encountered and assisted in recent months.

Le, 59, Vietnam

Le is a widow and lives alone. Typhoon Ketsana completely destroyed her house.

She has been fortunate to receive relief support from local authorities and individuals, including 500,000VND (US$27).

Her real dream though is to rebuild her home. For three weeks, Le has spent hours every day diligently collecting the left over bricks of her collapsed home.

She says: "If I had enough money, I would rebuild my house and buy a cow."

Piak, over 100, Indonesia

Piak, who has been a widow for 50 years, lived with her youngest daughter, Maryati, 56, and next door to herPiak, over 100, Indonesia other daughter Nurhaman, 73. All three of them lost their houses and belongings in the earthquake.

Luckily, they were not injured, but Piak has been in a state of shock since the earthquake and is feeling fragile.

She said: "I'm grateful to God that none of my family members were killed, but what we really need now is to rebuild our home. I do not want to move. I've lived here as long as I can remember and this is the place where I will die."

When she was younger Piak used to sell vegetables in the local market, but since she stopped working she has relied on her daughter and son-in-law, who also have 13 children to support, for financial help. However, her son-in-law was injured in the earthquake and his shop was destroyed. They are now forced to depend on charity and outside aid.

Despite their loss, they look to the future with high hopes. They plan to rebuild their house and start up their business again.

Delfin, 68, The Philippines

"When the floods began, we were having fun. Then the river started rising very quickly. I held my wife's hand and ran to our house to save some of our things. Then the water entered and rose up very fast to our chests. We fled our house, but my wife was panicking. I tried to calm her down, but the water continued to rise. We climbed to the roof, but the water kept rising very fast and was soon up to our necks.

"We managed to get from our roof to the next house, which is higher. We thought we were safe but the water continued to rise and it reached us again. That was when we really panicked because we thought we would die. The water was up to my jaw by then and my wife was crying for help.

"Some young men saw us and tied a rope to the next house and swam to save us. They gave my wife a banana stalk to sit on and told her to hold the rope. The water was still rising and I thought I would die but somebody held my head above the water and put me on top of an airbed.

"This is the first time in my life I have experienced such a scary situation. I have had so many struggles in life, which is why I never gave up.

"Our house was gutted by the flood. We could not save anything, but we cannot leave because we have nowhere else to go.

"No matter what happens I cannot leave this place because I am a leader and have responsibility for others. I am trying to help other victims, especially older people."

Find out more about how we help older people in emergencies.

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Sarah Marzouk
Country: UK
Job title: Digital Communications

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