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Rebuilding for Baby Yolee

Philippines, December 26, 2013

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  • Hazel Giducos gave birth to her baby just hours before Typhoon Haiyan hit tiny Kinatarcan Island in the Philippines. She and her husband nicknamed her Baby Yolee after the storm (known locally as "Yolanda") that she survived on her first day. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
  • Mother and baby survived utter destruction — Hazel fled the health center and found shelter at her aunt's house farther inland from the coast. Even there, the roof was torn off by 190 mph winds. The family's modest home was reduced to pile of debris. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
  • Officials estimate that 90% of Kinatarcan Island was destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm ever to make landfall. Mercy Corps was the first to reach the remote island with food and relief supplies in the days after the storm. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
  • Now we are working on ways to rebuild and improve water and sanitation resources for the island's residents, who have no main water source and rely on rainwater collection. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

It’s been seven weeks since Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines. And seven weeks since Baby Yolee was born.

Just hours before the terrifying storm crashed into tiny Kinatarcan Island, 24-year-old Hazel Giducos was giving birth to her second child in the island’s local health center.

Miraculous survival

As the typhoon descended, Hazel forced herself from her hospital bed and fled. She ran by foot, carrying her newborn baby, Danzel, in her arms looking for somewhere to take shelter.

She knew the health center wasn’t safe: It was near the ocean and not a well-built building. Her aunt’s house was further inland and had better protection, so she headed there, arriving exhausted, still bleeding and in pain from her labor, and terrified for the safety of her infant as the massive storm hit land.

The winds, gusting at over 190 miles an hour, ripped the roof off the house as she huddled in a corner, clutching the baby. A deluge of rain poured down on them for hours as the typhoon raged on. At times she was certain they wouldn’t survive.

But miraculously, as the storm moved on and an eerie calm settled in, Hazel realized they had survived. Her husband found her and the baby at her aunt’s house later that day. He was overcome with relief when he saw them both alive.

When the young parents learned the typhoon storm was called “Yolanda,” they nicknamed their new daughter Baby Yolee, in honor of her inopportune birthdate.

Nowhere left to go home

Typhoon Haiyan was one of the world’s strongest storms. Kinatarcan Island, in the Visayas Sea, was one of the heavily affected areas, as it was in the direct path of the storm when it made its fourth landfall on November 8. Officials estimated that over 90% of the island was destroyed.

Hazel didn’t know what had happened to her house for two days as she tried to recover from Yolee’s birth and the trauma of the typhoon. When she and her husband walked across the island to find out, they passed the health center she had fled a few days before. It was devastated beyond recognition.

“I knew then that our house couldn’t have made it through,” she said. “It’s a simple house. My husband built it of flimsy wood, cinder blocks and metal. It is all we could afford.”

As they neared their home they saw their neighbors homes were destroyed, and then they saw their home — or what had been their home. A pile of rubbish — sticks, tangled metal sheeting, crushed cement blocks, tree branches, muddy tattered clothes and broken furniture — was all that remained.

“When we saw it, we cried and cried to see our situation,” Hazel remembered.

Getting by without the basics

Having no options and needing shelter immediately, Hazel and her husband dug a little cave in the pile of debris. This is what she calls “home” now. They sleep on their old cot — broken now — that they found in a field where it had been deposited by the typhoon. Three old, soggy pairs of shoes that they salvaged sit out to dry in front of their shelter.

When it rains, which happens several times a day, they have a simple piece of plastic sheet they pull over themselves to try to keep dry.

Exposed to the erratic tropical weather, Baby Yolee has been sick and suffers from severe rashes. Hazel, who also has a three-year old daughter Danica Grace, is trying her best, but lacks any basic items to help her children.

The remote island lies far from major shipping or ferry routes, so major relief operations did not reach survivors here.

“We need water, shelter, clothes, food… It is very hard,” she explained.

Hope for recovery

Hazel is overwhelmed by their situation. Her husband is a fisherman — like almost everyone on the island. Before the typhoon he made only about 50 pesos (approximately $1.12 USD) a day.

Now, even that little income is gone — no one is fishing as most of the boats were destroyed or damaged, and the men are trying to build shelters for their families. They have no way to earn money now.

When Mercy Corps arrived at the island in the week after the typhoon with a boat filled with food packages and basic relief supplies including blankets and towels, Hazel was relieved that help was finally starting to arrive. It was the first hopeful moment that she had experienced in a long time.

“My baby is very precious and this helps my baby. This was very helpful,” said Hazel.

Mercy Corps’ long-term support

As the long recovery gets under way, we’re looking at how to help Hazel, Baby Yolee and other Kinatarcan Island residents with their water and sanitation needs now and for the future. Our goal is to prevent the spread of disease and help families access enough clean water for their drinking, cooking and cleaning needs.

It’s just one of the ways we’re committed to helping families like Baby Yolee’s rebuild in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.

With our partners, we’ve distributed tools and materials to help families construct safer temporary shelters. We opened dedicated spaces where children can safely play and heal from the trauma they’ve experienced. And we will focus on economic support in the months ahead to get people back to work and supporting their families.

How you can help