The real work now begins — to ease suffering in the Philippines

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 20 2013 6:45 p.m. MST

Mildred Villaflores, a member of the Ormoc 2nd Ward, bathes her son Arthur King Villaflores at the chapel, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, in Ormoc, Philippines.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

EDITOR'S NOTE: Deseret News journalist Jesse Hyde and photojournalist Ravell Call are in the Philippines tracking the relief efforts underway following Typhoon Haiyan.

ORMOC, Philippines — Most mornings, Chris Biesinger wakes up before his children, feeds the chickens, and then rides his bike from his Spanish Fork home to the hospital where he works as a nurse practitioner in Provo.

But this morning, lying on the floor, he hears other sounds, at once familiar and distant: the beeping honk of a motorcycle, the rumble of a truck shuddering down the highway, a rooster crowing. Then, slowly, he recognizes the smells: the wood smoke of a cooking fire, the gasoline fumes from a cargo truck, the bread rising in a bakery down the street.

He is back, after all these years, in the Philippines.

Only a few days ago, Biesinger was in Utah, getting his own son ready for a Mormon mission But a co-worker at the hospital, who had also served a mission to the Philippines, asked him if he wanted to go back, to help in the relief effort after Typhoon Haiyan.

The international media have moved on, now that the bodies have been removed from the streets. But Biesinger knows the real work is just beginning.

Within the path of the storm, more than half a million homes were damaged or destroyed. In cities like Tacloban, which once had a population of 235,000, the power is still out, the grocery stores empty.

More than one-third of residents have fled to places like Manila and Cebu City. Those who remain have no idea when they’ll be able to shop for food the way they once did, or how long they’ll have to rely on aid organizations and governments to survive.

Biesinger is here with 13 other former missionaries, hoping to help in some small way. It is laughable, really, what they can offer against the crushing magnitude of the task at hand. But they can do something, and they say that is why they are here.

Outside, a chain saw is whirring as one of the former missionaries cuts up a fallen tree. Not far from there, water splashes in a rubber tub as one of the refugees readies a bath for her baby. This makeshift camp, where people sleep on floors and cook outside in blackened pots, slowly comes to life.

At one point, 400 people were living in the LDS church, 100 of them not members. But now, only a dozen or so remain. They are mostly women and children; their husbands have gone back home to rebuild.

Before the storm hit, the bishop of the local congregation warned everyone to take shelter in the church. He even got on his motorcycle and drove to the mountains, down by the rivers and the fishing villages, pleading with the members who lived there to come to the meetinghouse.

Those who listened, survived.

As the sun rises above the parking lot, three teenage girls slip on yellow vests that say “Helping Hands.” A chalkboard is wheeled out to the street, advertising the medical clinic Biesinger's group, CharityVision, is offering today. “US Doctors!” it says.

“Free checkup!” the girls yell to the people zooming by on motorcycles. One of the girls out on the street, Lorena Sioc, is here today even though the storm washed out her house. But that’s not unique. They’ve all lost something, and yet they're here, helping.

Biesinger washes his hands in the cold water, slaps on a pair of blue surgical gloves and drapes a stethoscope around his neck. He takes his seat in a plastic chair, readies his bandages and antibiotics, and waits for his first patient of the day.

“What do you have here,” he asks one patient who traveled from hours away to get treatment. Nearly two weeks have passed since the storm, and the hospitals still aren’t functioning.

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