Surviving Typhoon Haiyan: “Now, our priorities are to find shelter, food, and water.”

Geronima Merales describes her family’s harrowing story of survival after Typhoon Haiyan destroyed their home.
Geronima and her family in their shelter in Tanawan. Photo: ACF-Philippines, L. Grosjean

“This has always been our land,” says Geronima Merales, a 60-year-old resident of Tanawan, a village a few miles south of Tacloban. Geronima has lived in Tanawan her entire life, but last week, she lost the only home she’d ever known to severe floods caused by Typhoon Haiyan. And she was not the only one affected—the typhoon tore through Tanawan, destroying the homes of 3,500 villagers. 

A narrow escape

As she sits in her family’s makeshift shelter, Geronima describes how she and her family lost their home and narrowly escaped the rising waters:

“When the waters rose, we fled to a brick house that was stronger than ours. But even there, the water came up to our chests. There was no second floor, so it was impossible to climb higher. We all just held on, hoping to survive. I held my little granddaughter, Arianese—who is severely disabled and unable to walk—close to me. Several times I was afraid that I would not be able to stand it any longer. But I knew if I let go, we would both die. It’s horrible to think of it… But thankfully, we are alive.”

– Geronima Merales, 60, Typhoon Haiyan survivor, Tanawan

After they escaped the floods, Geronima’s family fled to an evacuation center, only to find that it had also been destroyed. So they returned to their piece of land, determined to start rebuilding. From the debris scattered where their house used to stand, they constructed a meager shelter out of boards and tarp. As she sits under the leaking fabric that serves as a temporary roof, Geronima says that despite the destruction all around her, she still sees Tanawan as her home: “I want to stay here. I want to rebuild my home.”

Struggling to rebuild their lives

Though Geronima’s family home had stood near a water pump, the floods contaminated their water supply. When her grandson Yentsé drank the dirty water, he became sick with diarrhea, and there is no medication to treat him. The lack of clean water poses other problems, too—without it, they can’t cook what little rice they have left. Now, Geronima struggles to keep her family safe and healthy in the face of these daunting challenges.

“Now, our priorities are to find shelter, food, and water. We are recovering what materials we can to rebuild the house. We find things to eat wherever we can. We have to walk far up the mountain to find clean water that won’t make us sick. This is the reality of our daily lives. Slowly, we will rebuild.”

– Geronima Merales, 60, Typhoon Haiyan survivor, Tanawan

Our teams are helping thousands of families who lost their homes in the typhoon and are now struggling to get by. But we can’t do it without your support. Your continued generosity can help us reach more families like Geronima’s, so they can have access to the shelter, food, and water they need to begin rebuilding their lives.