It's early morning. The team criss-cross the town looking for a place to install our inflatable hospital. In the end, the Bethany hospital is our best option. There is no other site in town with a flat space large enough to set up our hospital. The installation will start on Tuesday and there’s a race against time to clear the space which, like the rest of Tacloban city, is covered with debris. The hospital next door faces the sea. Everything inside is destroyed. There is some medical material that could still be usable - little by little we hope it’ll be possible to rehabilitate the building in collaboration with the ministry of health authorities.
Near our hotel we meet Jason, owner of a climbing centre and a renowned local speleologist [caver], a popular sport in the limestone Samar island with many underground caverns. His friends - nicknamed cavemen - have come from all over the archipelago, some of them even from abroad, to give him a hand and help the Tacloban community. Asked by worried families, they drive motorbikes throughout the area searching for missing relatives, sometimes risking their own lives. Jason compares the typhoon to the movie ‘World War Z’. His fear is still very real. He keeps his gun with him at all times, even though there's now a massive army deployment on the streets. On one of the walls he shows me the two-metre high water-mark left by the flooding.
Jason and his friends immediately offer to help us clear the Bethany hospital and round up the community. The people's courage and dedication is impressive. So far, we have to humbly acknowledge that they help us more than we can help them.
Everyone understands the urgency to re-establish a hospital in town. Typhoon related wounds get infected and the first amputations have already been performed in the military hospitals. The lack of a blood bank is a major issue. The absence of electricity and refrigeration impedes any storage. The same goes for laboratories, vaccines and incubators...
Even if a significant part of the population has already been evacuated, Tacloban area has 300,000 inhabitants and setting up a referral hospital is our priority.
Bethany Hospital ©Yann Libessart/MSF
The team in charge of installing the inflatable hospital is arriving. It’s with real joy that I meet up with old friends. Eric, my firm friend from Quebec, who I've shared adventures with in Burundi and Haiti. I'd bumped into Daniel the mechanic in Nigeria, Damien the Aussie in Niger, Aurélie the electrician last summer when we were carrying out a vaccination campaign in a refugee camp in South Sudan.
Emergency teams are made of very experienced people. We've all seen our share of crises and disasters, but none of us have seen such a level of destruction. Yolanda crossed the archipelago like a lava flow, leaving behind a motorway of desolation hundreds of kilometres wide. One can only feel humble in the face of what the wind can do, or maybe it’s wind that humiliates us.