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Before and after: Typhoon's raw reality gives clarity to survivors

Published: Saturday, Nov. 23 2013 5:50 p.m. MST

When the wind and rain stop six hours later, and everyone in her family is safe, Ruby and her son walk outside. Nearly every house in their neighborhood is flattened. She looks out across the city, and in the distance, she sees a rainbow. She takes it as a sign from God that everything will be all right.

She had gone to the grocery store the Monday before the typhoon and bought cans of sardines, candles and other emergency supplies. They have enough food and water to survive for a week or more.

Because their house is made of concrete blocks and built on a solid foundation, Ruby and her family stayed inside, unlike other members of her congregation who evacuated to the chapel. Her husband leaves that afternoon to visit the church to see what he can do to help.

As he walks through the city, he sees friends who lost family. He calls to them, but they keep walking, as if they can’t hear. Their faces are blank, devoid of emotion, their clothes torn, their hair wet and matted down by the mud and rain. They remind him of zombies.

At night, as Ruby gathers with the eight members of her family who live in the compound, they hear gunfire. Her husband hears a rumor that the prisoners have escaped from the jail, and he makes plans to leave the city. Ruby can’t sleep at night, awakened every time she hears the patter of rain, worried that the storm has returned.

Aid flows in

Once Perez has travelled through Leyte and Samar Islands and made contact with all the members there, he takes a ferry back to Cebu and returns as quickly as possible with a generator and boxes of food and medical supplies.

At the same time, he begins coordinating with the LDS Church’s disaster relief specialists in Manila and Salt Lake City. They order motorcycles so bishops, who oversee individual congregations, can deliver supplies or medicine to their members living in remote locations. They arrived Friday and will be sent to each ward.

They establish a command center in the city of Ormoc, where they ship sacks of rice, boxes of sardines, pallets of corned beef, blankets, mosquito nets, toothbrushes, soap, aspirin, bandages and other supplies. They talk about the best way to build and replace homes. And every day, Perez and his supervisors in Manila and Salt Lake touch base with bishops in affected areas.

Aid flows in unbidden. A week after the storm, 14 former missionaries who served in the Philippines arrive and set up a medical clinic at the command center in Ormoc, cleaning up cuts and bruises and abrasions for residents who line up all morning. They hand out medicine and apply bandages. The next day, they travel to remote villages to do the same.

A doctor from Manila flies in with boxes of vaccines he purchased himself for tetanus and cholera. At a chapel in Tacloban he gives shots to anyone that shows up.

Perez returns home to Cebu, but he finds it hard to sleep, as his phone is constantly ringing with calls from bishops and stake presidents in Samar and Leyte who report on the arrival of aid and ask what’s coming next.

One night at a chapel in Cebu, which is about 350 miles from Samar and Leyte islands, hundreds of members show up to assemble food and hygiene kits for those in the storm zone.

Dozens of evacuees arrive in Manila and Cebu every day, some with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They find their way to the LDS Temple, hoping that when they arrive, there will be a place for them to sleep.

Escape

For days after the storm, Ruby’s husband and her brother search for a way out of the city. They go to the airport but hundreds wait, and only the richest are able to fly out, paying cash for a seat.

Gas stations are closed, their owners worried about looting, and so no buses are leaving the city. The nearest ferry is several hours away by car.

One day, her brother hears that the Philippine Navy has a ship leaving that morning, and if they can get on they can go to Cebu, where they have relatives. He hurries home to relay the news.

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