MAF’s Disaster Response team was able to respond quickly with surveys of damage and emergency relief when Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit northeast Philippines in 15 September 2018.
In the early morning hours of 15 September, as the community of Valley Cove on the northeastern coast of the Philippines endured the full-force of Super Typhoon Mangkhut, Ruben and Opit realized the danger their families were in. Battling winds that reached 165 mph (270 kph), the adults and children left their wood houses, holding hands and crouching low, and made their way to two large and deep holes in the ground. There they stayed for over eight hours with only banana leaves as cover from the rain and wind.
“When morning had come, we were going to go back to see our house,” Opit said. “We even cried, my wife and I, because we no longer had a place to shelter.” Both Ruben and Opit’s homes were completely gone. The roof lay somewhere in the nearby forest, and sections of the house frame could be seen jutting out of the ocean near a rocky point.
The eye of the 900 km-wide typhoon (locally known as Ompong), slammed into the Baggao, Cagayan area of northeastern Luzon Island, at that point the most powerful storm to hit the planet in 2018.
In Bolos Point, one of the villages that passed through the eye, the power of the wind could be seen in the palm trees snapped in half or lying on the ground. The forceful winds that ripped off metal roofs and damaged all but one of Bolos Point’s fishing boats also struck one devastating, irreparable blow: it destroyed the rice crop just weeks before harvest – the rice that would carry these communities through to the next harvest, seven months down the road. Yet despite the damage to material possessions and food, the loss of life was minimal.
“It’s shocking every time I see how destroyed everything is,” said missionary Donovan Epp as he viewed the destruction for the third time from the helicopter flying slowly over the beach at Bolos Point. Donovan and his wife Char are with Ethnos360 and live on this isolated shoreline, a remote area only accessible by boat or a 12-hour hike over a mountain range from their home to the closest road. Their house, as well, lost its roof and sustained damage.
The Rapid Response
Unlike earthquakes and tsunamis, which strike with no warning, typhoons allow time to prepare. MAF’s Disaster Response (DR) team is trained for rapid deployment to disaster zones and closely watched the path of the typhoon. As it became clear that it would hit the island of Luzon, a small DR team of three departed for Manila, landing just before the storm hit. MAF was ready to respond immediately in partnership with Ethnos360 Aviation, who operates a small helicopter out of the city of Tuguegarao, closest to the path of the typhoon.
Utilizing Donovan Epp’s language skills and knowledge of the area, Vaughan Woodward, MAF’s DR team leader, immediately began a helicopter aerial survey with pilot Zach Keller covering the northeast coastal region while the NGO Wings Above flew Sharlene Coker and John Gorenflo to survey the northern coast and islands. Medair arrived two days later with a team to conduct a more detailed assessment of the needs in the hardest hit coastal villages of Bolos Point, Valley Cove, Lenawan and Tabugan, compiling a list of over 400 households in need of emergency food and shelter items.
“The goal was to provide the families with some staple food while they got their housing cleaned up and start on a road toward recovery,” explained Vaughan.
Working together the teams purchased relief items of rice, tarpaulins, rope, rice bags, nails and tools; along with their children, Ethnos360 missionaries and the MAF staff cut rope and repackaged rice allotments per family; and pilot Zach Keller began multiple flights to deliver the shelter and food items to each village where Medair organized distribution.
Hardship and Gratitude
With the supervision of Nath Fauveau, Medair’s Emergency Response Project Manager, volunteers at each village donned Medair’s bright red vests and assisted in the distribution by making announcements, collecting signatures or fingerprints and handing out the supplies to individual on the list.
“They’ve been so grateful and so helpful,” Nath described after the first few days. “We did four distributions and everything went very smoothly because we had the support of the people and they are thankful we are there helping.”
The communities pulled together to help each other, including the minority Agta people group. When residents of a village further away couldn’t make it to the distribution, volunteers carried the kits to them. At the small village of Lenawan, the men built a temporary distribution shelter on the beach using poles, stakes, and a tarp.
Although most people concealed the pain of their loss, a few could not hold back the tears. At the end of the first distribution to Tabugan, the village leader stood up to thank the team. “He asked the local pastor to pray for us,” Nath recalls, “and as he prayed the community leader broke down and started crying. He was so thankful for us being there to help. That was such a touching and humbling moment.”
Twenty-nine year old Marvilyn Ignacio, a community health worker in Bolos Point and mother of two, assisted in the distribution. While waiting for more helicopter rice deliveries, she explained to Nath that their critical rice crop was almost entirely destroyed, most blown off the stalks by the fierce winds, and in some cases the soil contaminated by salty sea water.
“Our food is so very hard to get because the day after the typhoon is coming our crops didn’t harvest,” Marvilyn explained. “We need food because we only have two crops here, May and September. For this season we do not have any food that we can get. We are so very sad that the food that we have to eat is done.” Marvilyn covered her eyes with her hands as the tears began to flow. “I’m so very thankful that even though you are not a Filipino, you’re helping us to get this problem. Thank you very much for the shelter that you gave to us. I’m so very thankful.”
The quick response to the communities in need was only possible through the partnership of the four organizations that combined their skills, experience and assets. Ethnos360 Aviation provided the helicopter and pilot. MAF’s Disaster Response team financed the helicopter flights and brought their experience in logistics, IT technology, and flight operations. Medair acquired the shelter and food items and distributed these to the people in need. Ethnos360 missionaries assisted with the language, cultural knowledge and well-established connections to the coastal communities where they have worked for many years.
During MAF’s typhoon response from 15 September through 9 October, the helicopter made 62 flights in 35 flight hours, and 6105 kilos of food and shelter items were delivered to affected villages, plus 97 passengers flown.
The MAF DR team, though small, each brought specific skills and experience particularly useful in the ever-changing environment of a disaster. “Working within a disaster response requires rapid decision-making and being willing to roll with the punches and make multiple plans until you get one that actually works for the day,” says team leader Vaughan Woodward. “That motivates me and makes me feel like I'm contributing, helping others and having a ministry.”
John Gorenflo used his helicopter pilot and engineering skills to assist with maintenance, acted as Air Boss in charge of operations, and IT specialist to repair the internet and satellite systems where needed. “It's a privilege to be part of this. It's one of those unique opportunities that I have to use the skills that God has gifted me with in both aviation and technology to serve his kingdom where there is great need. This is where God made me to be.”
For Sharlene Coker, administrator for the disaster response in charge of stats, writing reports, finances, travel arrangements and much more, it’s about the end goal. “It's amazing to get out and help people when they really need it the most."