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A storm's fury, a mother's story

©Philippine Daily Inquirer
UNICEF teams up with Seair and Sprint to fly emergency goods to Camarines Norte.

These are stories
that touch our hearts,
keep us grounded
to what we have
always believed in ---
children have rights.

They are after all
our future.


By Dale Rutstein
UNICEF assembles a quick emergency response program to help victims of the 2004 December typhoon tragedy.

Alone and terribly worried, Jeanette Perdigon, 17, stares helplessly at her three-month old infant. Little Gerald appears listless and pale, with eyes sunken deep into their sockets. He has severe diarrhea.

It has been four days since the typhoon Yoyong smashed the province of Camarines Norte. As wind gusts increased to 220 kph, residents of coastal barangays of Mercedes left their homes for evacuation shelters in public school buildings. Mercedes is no stranger to typhoons lying on the perched on the Pacific coast of the Philippines.

Yoyong had grown from a tropical depression to a super typhoon in just a few days time. It was the fourth and the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines in two weeks. Meteorologists’ eyes widened as Yoyong’s spiraling shape loomed larger than the whole of the Philippines in their satellite screens.

Wind and tides struck barangay San Roque around midday wiping out several homes along the beach. Thankfully all residents had been evacuated from the nipa huts in the sand. San Roque is home to the poorest families of Mercedes; mostly transplanted there from original homes that were destroyed in previous typhoons.

As the weather system passed many returned to their homes to survey the damage and start repair work. But for those who lost everything another danger emerged. By 6 December, 300 people made homeless by Yoyong were still camped in Mercedes Central school wondering what their next step would be. In the last four days two child evacuees had died from dehydration due to diarrhoea. The school’s modest water and sanitation facilities were overwhelmed.

Jeanette fled with Gerald and went to this elementary. Jeanette was alone with her newborn and was not breastfeeding. In the damp and overcrowded conditions of the school it was impossible to obtain clean water to prepare a bottle for her son. Jeanette was alone and worried, her child growing weaker by the hour. Food and medical supplies were non-existent.

UNICEF responded quickly to the emergency and sought the help of the South East Asian Airlines (Seair) to fly badly needed food and medicines to the province. Local leaders like Governor Jesus Typoco and Mayor Pepito Lim accompanied UNICEF project officer Dale Rutstein to the evacuation center.

Here, they found Jeanette and her son. Testing for severe dehydration, the officer pinched a finger-full of skin on Gerald’s stomach and let go. Instead of snapping back instantly the small fold of skin seemed fixed and then slowly flattened out: a sure sign of severe dehydration. Jeanette and her son were whisked off to the local health center for emergency rehydration therapy.

As Jeanette and Gerald receive medical assistance, life is gradually coming back to normal in Mercedes. The people of San Roque barangay will re-build their homes again and hope that the next typhoon is many years away.

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