After her announcement that Embracing the World will take part in the relief operations in areas badly affected by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Philippines, Amma activated relief teams based out of Manila, Japan and Singapore. Amma also dispatched senior disciple Swami Ramakrishnananda to visit survivors in the hard-hit Tacloban City in Leyte province. Swami Ramakrishnananda was joined by Santosh Miyazawa and Mani, Embracing the World service coordinators from Tokyo and Singapore, respectively. The team reached Manila on the evening of December 3rd.
After planning meetings with local officials on December 4th, the team loaded up relief materials onto a military plane for the flight to Tacloban City. The three international coordinators were joined by our local coordinator in Manila–Senator Jamby Madrigal–and several Filipino volunteers.
Tacloban is the capital of the Philippine province of Leyte, approximately 360 miles (580 km) southeast of Manila. Economically, Tacloban City had been among the top ten most competitive cities in the Philippines. But on November 8, 2013, the city was largely destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. As a typhoon-prone area, Tacloban previously suffered similar destruction and loss of life in 1897 and 1912.
When the team landed in the Tacloban Airport, they started feeling the impact of the typhoon. Most everything in the airport — including the control room — was destroyed, with only a few parts of the structure remaining. The air traffic control room, the main airport arrival and departure halls, and other main structures were destroyed beyond recognition.
Their first stop was the local indoor stadium, which was serving as a temporary home for about 3,000 refugees. The team distributed cooked food to the surviviors. It was the first time after almost a month that they had received cooked food of any kind. The hot food, served with love and concern by Swami Ramakrishnananda, Senator Madrigal and our other volunteers, brought smiles to the faces of many of the survivors.
Next, our team visited a second relief camp and Congressman Martin Romualdez’s house, which has served as a hub for organizing relief operations. In discussions with both Leyte Province Governor Petilla and Congressman Romualdez, Senator Madrigal and Swami Ramakrishananda discussed the ongoing relief operations and explained about Amma, Embracing the World and Amma’s participation in similar disaster relief operations in the past. They then proceeded to explore the best ways in which Embracing the World can spend the $1 million in pledged aid to help the disaster survivors.
The local relief operations coordinator graciously lent his helicopter to give our team an aerial view of the devastation. From the helicopter, the team was truly able to see the real situation. With wind speeds double that of Hurricane Katrina, the damage was three times worse than the Japan tsunami of 2011. More than 80 percent of all houses and buildings in the region were destroyed. Four weeks after the disaster, the area still looks like a war zone. Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda is the deadliest typhoon on record in the Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people as of December 13. Some accounts report a death toll of 20,000 or more in Tacloban City alone. It is also the strongest storm ever recorded at landfall, and the fourth strongest typhoon ever recorded in terms of wind speed.