Typhoon Haiyan: no way to prepare for scale of human and animal disaster

Above are photos of the IFAW Typhoon Haiyan Disaster Response team on the ground in the Philippines.

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There is no way to mentally prepare yourself for responding to an area devastated by a disaster. I knew I was going to see loss of both human and animal life and a societal breakdown of some kind, but I still found myself overwhelmed by the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. 

I read an article on The Guardian describing stories of loss and survival the night before our flight to Tacloban.  A man tells a story about how his cat woke up the family as the water began to rise in their house. All of the family members, including his cat swam to safety.

SEE ALSO: Typhoon Haiyan: preparations leading to action for animals in the Philippines

These moments of the human-animal bond gave me hope that we would find more of these uplifting stories during our time here.

I arrived at Tacloban area this morning with our small assessment team. News reports featured government and humanitarian groups struggling to provide for the most basic needs, like food and water, so we knew the animals would definitely need help too.

As we started our assessment, we were not seeing any live animals, just those animals that didn’t make it, lying up on the side of the road. As we continued on, however, we saw our first dogs roaming the streets.

Not long in, I spotted a young woman walking a fluffy Pomeranian on a leash down the road. We stopped to hear her story. As the storm approached she evacuated her house with 'Sweetie'. She kept Sweetie with her since the typhoon.

Tragically, her boyfriend was not so lucky and lost three out of his four dogs in the storm. Sweetie knew immediately there was food for her in our bags and we handed a full bag of kibble to her owner. 

Besay, another coastal town, was also devastated by the storm. As we worked our way through the town, we spotted a puppy sleeping on the ground level of the home, while the family was making repairs to the second level. The entire front wall of their house was missing

The family introduced us to this amazing pet and explained that they thought they lost their dog when the water rose to the second floor. Suddenly, they spotted the little guy swimming beside the house and thought the worst. The next day, they found the puppy had miraculously survived along with the rest of his family and were shocked and relieved when he trotted home on his own.

As we wrapped up the first day of our assessment in Tacloban, we spotted a Boxer hungry in the streets scouring for food. The dog was happy to eat what we gave her and even 'sat' for her food like she was a family pet. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to locate her owner, and as we looked she dashed off into the distance, hopefully someone is looking for her; she is for sure looking for them. 

I found that hearing the stories of survival combined with seeing the people in these communities working to get back to their feet very heartening, despite the loss and long road to recovery. Day one gave me hope for Tacloban and the other communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan. 

-- JG

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Experts

Cora Bailey
Director, Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW)
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Dr. Ian Robinson, Vice President, Programs & Int'l Operations
Vice President, Programs & Int'l Operations
Gail A'Brunzo, IFAW Wildlife Rescue Manager
Wildlife Rescue Manager, IFAW HQ
Hanna Lentz, Program Officer/Campaigner, IFAW HQ
Program Officer/Campaigner, IFAW HQ
Jan Hannah
Northern Dogs Project Manager
Kate Nattrass Atema, Program Director, Companion Animals
Program Director, Companion Animals
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Nancy Barr, Program Director, Animal Action Education
Program Director, Animal Action Education
Rebecca Brimley, Program Advisor
Program Advisor
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters