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Disaster in the Philippines: Courage After Catastrophe

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The raging winds of Typhoon Haiyan have quieted, but the nightmare continues. Filipino officials estimate that the storm, which made landfall on Nov. 7 – one of the strongest on record, with winds of 195 mph – displaced 650,000 people. As citizens of the ravaged island republic struggle to put their lives back together, some shared stories of heartache and hope.

Bert Padilla, 28, a Filipino Internet marketer, was visiting Tacloban, in one of the two hardest-hit areas, with his wife and 1-year-old daughter.

We were there for vacation, staying with my wife’s sister. There were eight of us in a two-bedroom house that soon lost its roof. My father-in-law and I stood for hours holding the front and kitchen doors so we wouldn’t get blown away. It was like being in a pressurized cabin: You knew if you let go of the doors, they would fly off. My daughter didn’t understand what was happening and kept smiling. I told my wife to hide her in the sink, since that was the strongest enclosure. The next day as we walked about 12 miles to the airport, I saw at least 100 bodies along the way. On the military plane that took us to Cebu, my wife and I were both teary-eyed. I told her, “We’re going home.”

Cara Tizon, 29, who lives in Manila, was on the island of Malapascua.

The winds all of a sudden became superstrong. The left side of the cottage, where I and three other foreigners were staying, came off, then our roof. Still, we were lucky. The ceiling was still intact. Nearby, there was a family of about 10 whose house literally collapsed. We took a boat, then a van to Cebu City. The devastation was huge. Even the schools intended for evacuation were unusable.

Daryl Dano, 35, flew from unscathed Manila to Tacloban to find her family. She told PEOPLE in an e-mail:

Got here via a chopper, thanks to military connections. Everyone miraculously survived. Planning to temporarily relocate family to Cebu. No food and water here. House is [nine-tenths] destroyed. Only living room and balcony left. Homeless neighbors taking refuge with us. A dead child washed into what was our former living room. Never have I seen my city like this, devastated.

Lynette Lim, 27, of Save the Children International waited out the typhoon in a government building on the outskirts of Tacloban.

A colleague rang me to say her window had shattered, so I helped move her into my room. A half hour later, we moved to a third room. Outside, it was a blur, a sheet of white nothingness. People floated over from another building on a bed. We gave them food and shelter. After the storm, people were laying dead bodies on the street and covering them with cloth, cardboard, whatever they could find. There is no power. No clean water. No communication. No shelter. No waste management. The smell is terrible. Help cannot arrive quickly enough.

Marissa Benting, 29, a pastry chef, helped out at the Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base near Cebu City.

Around 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 11, a pregnant woman arrived at the hospital. She gave birth a few minutes after 11 a.m., a bouncing baby boy she and her husband named Yolando, because the typhoon was named Yolanda here. They were very happy they got out of Tacloban. The most affected survivors are the kids. Every time they see flashes on TV of their hometowns being flooded, they scream and cry. Some children are here without parents. They were picked up by people who came across them while walking to the airport to escape. If the kids said their parents were dead and they didn’t have any other family, people would just grab them.

Katsy Borromeo, 30, a U.S.-based journalist with family in the Philippines, spent days trying to locate her dad. Finally, he was reunited with his family on Nov. 12.

He sent a text to my sister Katrina that said, “I am ok. Honestly K, when I was a teenager we experienced this a lot here in Tacloban.” This was at the height of the storm’s fury, and all my dad could think of was to appease my frightened sister. He is our hero.