We meet Lilian at the construction site of her house. Located only a couple of hundred metres from the shore, her neighbourhood of Santa Cruz was literally flattened by the storm surge brought on by Super Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda.
The Municipal Hall, seen here in the background, is one of only two houses in Lilian’s neighbourhood that escaped the deluge more or less intact. It saved many people’s lives, but only just: at the height of the flood, the water on the second floor was chest-high.
Around 50 residents of Santa Cruz are still missing today, and more than 200 are confirmed dead. “We lived through the storm, but we lost everything,” Liliana says. “In the first weeks and months, we could not have survived without the rice from WFP. Even when the markets opened again, we could not buy rice – the price was too high.”
Now she and other survivors are striving to move forward. “Some families have left, but most are back and try to rebuild, like us,” Lilian says. They are helped by the local government and a number of international and religious organisations. Even Haiyan itself has provided some building materials.“One of our coconut trees was felled by the storm. We bought three more trees and had them all cut into lumber to start rebuilding our home,” Lilian tells us, sitting in a corner of her old house, now open on two sides and covered with a tarpaulin. “We still need more wood, maybe three or four trees, then plywood for the walls and corrugated iron sheets for the roof. But first we need to save up money.”
In the meantime, Liliana, her husband and her 78-year-old mother live in a simple structure with tarpaulin walls. Her two children, 13 and 17 years old, are staying with relatives in town. “They come to visit, but for now they are better off where they are – in a dry house close to their school. When our new home is finished, we’ll have them back,” she says with a hopeful smile.
The construction will take a while yet, as Liliana’s husband is the only breadwinner at the moment. Liliana’s job selling palm wine was abolished by Haiyan: most coconut trees in the area are dead or too damaged to produce. But since the roads have been cleared from debris, her husband can drive his cycle cab again and make enough money to feed the two of them.
“Now we can buy rice and fish, and once a week we eat meat. And we look towards the future,” Liliana says and her husband nods in agreement. When their house is finished, they want to open a small shop in the corner that remains of their old home.