Philippines: a long and exhausting day...

The town of Guiuan is the first place Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines. Caroline joins the MSF team working to provide vital medical care... 

Friday 15 November: I have joined an MSF team in Guiuan, a small town of some 50,000 inhabitants on the south-east coast of Samar, the first place the typhoon made landfall. What struck me immediately was the devastation all round. There’s nothing left of this town – but you can easily imagine how beautiful it once was. Luckily two colleagues, Alexis and Angelo, came and greeted me warmly on the airport tarmac. They had also come to collect the “survival kit”* that I had brought with me in the helicopter – the only way to reach Guiuan in less than 12 hours. Several minutes later I was meeting up with the rest of the team.

They are: Johan and Lisa, respectively a doctor/surgeon and a nurse, both Swedish; and there’s Daisy, a Filipino nurse; and Alexis and Angelo, two logistics specialists – Belgian and Italian. These last two are in the process of setting up an alternative hospital, to replace the one that was destroyed when the typhoon ripped through the town one week ago. It’s a race against time because everything that is needed here: clean drinking water, electricity, communications networks – all completely gone!

While waiting till this hospital is up and running, the medics are working in a health centre that’s pretty much in ruins. With it’s roof torn off, the building is still standing - a miracle in this utterly devastated town. Johan and Lisa are fully occupied suturing, vaccinating and cleaning wounds – mostly badly infected wounds and wide open gashes and lacerations. They work hand in hand with Filipino medics who have come as volunteers to do their part to help their community.

At 6pm night falls.

Here, the phrase pitch black has real meaning: there’s no electricity and the town is plunged into total darkness. There’s a debriefing about the day and plans are discussed for tomorrow, then it’s time for bed.

Our MSF base in Guiuan ©Caroline Van Nespen/MSF

 We’re crammed in together on the floor of a small house that we hastily tidied earlier in the day, a length of plastic sheeting for our roof. We’re using it as a dormitory but soon it will be the pharmacy stock for the MSF hospital.

MSF Philippines typhoon Yolanda Haiyan emergency disaster

Sleeping arrangements for the MSF team in Guiuan ©Caroline Van Nespen/MSF

3am. A torrential downpour drums down on our makeshift shelter and abruptly wakes me up. My colleagues all keep sleeping straight through. What with all the consultations that come one after the other, the logistical challenges to solve, it was a long and exhausting day for everyone. And tomorrow is shaping up to be just the same! Three cargo planes will be arriving at the Guiuan airport. We’ll have to organise somehow getting several tons of medical material and relief items up to our base. Hard to believe that tomorrow tents will be erected here and there will be a proper hospital – it will even have an operating theatre.

  * The “survival kit” allows MSF teams to be self-sufficient when they arrive in a remote location. The idea is to not have to rely on the local population’s resources. Check-list = tents, foam mattresses, water, freeze-dried food sachets, saucepans...