Gwen Eamer, a delegate with the Canadian Red Cross, is currently deployed to Ormoc, Philippines. You can support Red Cross efforts in the Philippines by donating to the Typhoon Haiyan Fund.
When we arrived in Ormoc, on the hard-hit island of Leyte, more than two weeks ago, no one quite knew what to expect. We knew that the Red Cross’ emergency response unit (ERU) was being deployed to support the Ormoc District Hospital, which had been badly damaged by Typhoon Haiyan, and that we would have some long days ahead of us.
We arrived by boat to a seaside town, where, even from the dock, the typhoon’s power was evident. Officials here estimate that 97% of the district’s roofs were damaged or destroyed by the storm. Homes, businesses and critical infrastructure like hospitals and schools were all damaged. Shops were shuttered, roads were blocked, streets were quiet. This was a town in shock.
The region’s health needs were pressing. The district hospital, the only public facility serving 190,000 people in Ormoc and surrounding communities, was hit head-on by Haiyan, tearing off the roof, shattering windows, and destroying equipment.
When we arrived, the hospital could treat only 20 or 30 patients per day, and there was no surgery available for the many labouring women in case they had complications delivering their babies. Patients lined the benches of the lobby and halls, as the exhausted staff – who were themselves affected by the storm – worked around the clock, without electricity, to provide medical care.
The ERU team quickly got to work building our tented field hospital, and 48 hours after we unpacked our first box, we began accepting patients. Today, more than two weeks later, we are still operating at 100% capacity every day. We’ve delivered more than 150 babies, conducted more than 50 surgeries, and seen hundreds of pediatric and adult patients come through our wards.
Much has changed in the weeks since we arrived. The streets are lively as shops reopen, children begin returning to still-damaged schools, and infrastructure is being repaired. The signs of early recovery are everywhere, but for the many families who lost their homes or livelihoods, the emergency continues and the hard work will continue for many months to come.
As the first group of ERU personnel begins planning to hand over to our replacements, we look back on what we’ve accomplished here, and the hard work it took. But as our second-in-command likes to tell us, “if it was easy, someone else would have done it.”