Guiuan (Geewon) is a fishing town on the southern tip of an Island called Samar, Eastern Philippines. It sits on the edge of the Pacific Rim, and is a long way from anywhere.
*The author, Barry Mottershead, knows the area intimately and is advocating direct donations to the Philippines via the Manila Surfers Association.
Early in the morning on the 8th of November Typhoon Haiyan struck Guiuan at peak intensity, with sustained winds of 200mph or 320km/h and with gusts of up to 236mph or 380km/h. News agencies report that the fishing community surrounded by the Pacific Ocean was “flattened” and was “turned into a wasteland”.
Record breaking wind speed toppled trees, electrical posts and even concrete structures, blocking roads and making relief operations slow and difficult, 95% of the town was damaged, and survivors were left hungry and homeless.
The local houses which were built from corrugated iron and timber were ripped from the ground and people were killed by the 15ft storm surge and also by flying debris. Haiyan continued her path westwards taking out towns along the southern shore of Samar and then smashing into Tacloban, the main town 300km west of Guiuan.
Tacloban is also flattened and thousands are dead, more homeless. Its a horrible scene of disbelief and confusion as many people are struggling to come to terms with what has happened.
There are still no communications or power but it is now safe to fly to the airport without having to worry about being mobbed by starving, desperate people. The neighbouring towns are also in the same state of destruction. Paulo Soler
I have been trying to get in contact with my friends out there for days, and made contact with one who was in Cebu, taking his dad to the hospital. He said things are worse than the news is reporting. Much worse, and I will not relay the stories. Most importantly aid is only getting to Tacloban, as it's the regional centre, and first port of call to aid being flown in from Manila. The problem is that with current road conditions, Tacloban is sixteen hours away from Guiuan and only passable on motorbike.
Roads are in need of repair to get aid further east and onto the island of Samar and onwards to Guiuan. Phone lines, electricity and internet are down, and according to a local engineer won’t be back up for at least six months. Samar locals are completely cut off from the rest of the world, and were the worst hit by Haiyan.
Its a bad situation for the folks living in Guiuan and along the eastern coastline of Samar, they are alone, with no food, no houses and are in desperate need of aid.
I spoke to Paulo Soler, another friend based in Manila and he had this to say: “C 130 aeroplanes with soldiers finally arrived in Guiuan today. It was hit the hardest and completely demolished, 100%. There are still no communications or power but it is now safe to fly to the airport without having to worry about being mobbed by starving, desperate people. The neighbouring towns are also in the same state of destruction. I heard from Abdel that Hernani village smells of rot and decay”.
Paulo and the Manila Surfers Association have been quick to act and have worked with local company Balesin and the Eastern Samar Surf Club to get aid brought in by light aircraft to a landing strip just outside Guiuan,
“I have room for 9 doctors and 300 kgs on the plane for Guiuan” said Paulo, “we also have arranged to bring aid in by boat leaving in the next few days.” “We have a team of doctors and shelter experts from all over the world going with us.” He also added, “We heard that the damage is intense northwards from Guiuan to Hernani and west from Guiuan to Tacloban. Tacloban is now in anarchy despite having soldiers there. People are raiding homes of neighbouring towns as well as hijacking relief good trucks because they are so hungry, these are not bad people, they are just desperate for food, water and shelter."
A visibly shaken mayor of Davao upon visiting Tacloban had this to say “I think that God was somewhere else when this typhoon hit, He did not remember us here on Earth”
"We will fly in today, we've arranged for ground transport and minimal security for us to travel around the island from the landing field. We will give medical attention, food and water to as many people as possible”, said Paulo “My other job is to try make an accurate count of the deceased.”
“I will monitor as best as I can that the money you guys send is spent in the most effective way possible. It's money for medicine, food, water and shelter now that is most important. I saw a report of one poor man who said he was ashamed to be eating food he had taken from a ruined shop, that he was a good man, an honest man, but he had nothing left in the world. Everything was gone.” Paulo Soler
“I will monitor as best as I can that the money you guys send is spent in the most effective way possible. It's money for medicine, food, water and shelter now that is most important”. Said Paulo. “I saw a report of one poor man who said he was ashamed to be eating food he had taken from a ruined shop, that he was a good man, an honest man, but he had nothing left in the world. Everything was gone.”
Guiuan is Ground Zero and little help has arrived. The dead are being buried in mass graves just outside town, and disease is starting to claim the wounded. International aid organisations are starting to bring in relief funds, but inevitably funds will be pocketed by corrupt officials. It is an all too familiar scene in these kinds of destruction zones. Anything that makes it past the back pocket will most likely not make it to Guiuan and other towns affected in the region as they are so far down the line that it will be spent long before it gets to them.
I would like to ask the surfers of the world to rally together and to please help my friends out there. I know times are tough at the moment but any size donation would go a long way to helping the people of Samar. These guys are respected in the local community, and are willing to do whatever it takes to help people on the ground, they just need funds to make it happen. They know the lie of the land, and know how to get to rural villages to provide relief aid. This network of mates is strong, and they are committed to rebuilding their villages and restoring peace and tranquility on this beautiful island.
Any monetary donations can be sent to this bank account overseen by the Manila Surfers Association / MSA
For International Bank to Bank Money Transfers
Account Name: Manila Surfer’s Association
Account Number: 3031119598
Name of Bank: Chinabank Makati Main Branch
Swift Code: CHBKPHMM
If you so wish you can scan your donation transaction and mail it to MSA, they will then keep full records of where the cash has been spent. “We will be fully transparent with our aid efforts, people should not worry about their money being used wrongly”.
email@example.com is the email, anyone wanting to donate goods or extend a hand in any way please get hold of them on this address. Transaction receipts should be scanned and sent to this address too.
Our Connection to the Philippines
My brother and I took boats and buses up there from Cloud 9 back in 2000. We knew there had to be uncrowded waves in the area, so we just went for it. After two days of rough travel we arrived to the beach in the dark, and slept on the sand in our boardbags. We awoke to paradise and ended up staying for two months.
One day we were spotted walking through town with boards and were introduced to the local surf crew. There were only about 10 surfers living on Samar, the 4th largest island in Philippines, and they were more than happy to show us around their coastline full of gems.
We met their families and they took us in and fed us, even gave us their beds to sleep in. The most hospitable folk I’ve ever met. I made it my mission to go back every year for extended stints through the typhoon season, and have nearly spent a year of my life in this area now, exploring the coast further and further with the local boys. Our trips were always full on adventures, taking dugout boats over the horizon to distant islands, surfing reef passes no one had ever seen before and visiting islands that had not seen westerners since World War Two.
One of the local surfers, Abdel Alecho, and two of his friends started up the Eastern Samar Surf Club, and they helped others to get involved in the sport, they built up the image of surfing through hard work, teaching less fortunate children how to surf and involved the mayor of Guiuan in local competitions and surf days. It was a privilege to see these guys develop surfing on their island.