TACLOBAN: In the savage aftermath of the Philippines’ deadliest storm, an exhausted young woman gave birth to a girl on a filthy floor with little more than determination to sustain them.
Emily Sagalis survived the tsunami-like ocean surges of Super Typhoon Haiyan by gripping a fence with one hand, while using the other to protect her swollen belly from chunks of metal and other fast-floating debris.
Three days later, the 21-year-old was lying on a concrete floor in labour amid broken glass, splintered wood and other wreckage of a destroyed airport building that had been turned into a makeshift medical centre.
A military doctor told a journalist who witnessed the birth – the first at the centre since the typhoon – that Sagalis’ life was in danger as there were no antibiotics to treat seemingly inevitable infections.
But with the medics overwhelmed by a torrent of critically injured survivors, Sagalis was forced to leave with Bea Joy just seven hours after giving birth.
Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded, claimed about 8,000 lives last November, with many people dying in the terrifying days that followed when medicines, food and water were scarce.
Sagalis and Bea Joy, however, defeated death.
“I am happy that Bea Joy is happy and healthy. That’s the most important thing,” Sagalis said on a recent visit to their shanty rebuilt alongside hundreds of tents provided by international relief agencies.
The home Sagalis shares with Bea Joy and her unemployed husband, Jobert, is so close to the Pacific Ocean that the grey sand beach forms the floor of their tiny kitchen and sleeping area.
It is built on the same site as their previous home in San Jose, where all the buildings were wiped out as waves generated by Haiyan powered inland.
Thousands of people have returned to San Jose and neighbouring towns to live in crudely built homes, or in white tents from the United Nations’ Refugee Agency (UNHCR) that has helped lead relief efforts.
Sagalis, Jobert and Bea Joy have so far had a steady supply of food and water, thanks almost entirely to donations from foreign and local charities.
Sagalis never did suffer from infections from the cuts suffered during the storm and giving birth in unsterile conditions.
That is about where the mercies end.
Like their neighbours, Sagalis and Jobert have to continue living in San Jose as they have no money to go anywhere else and the government has yet to deliver on promises to relocate them.
Jobert was working as a delivery man in Manila when the typhoon hit. He lost his job when he decided to return home and care for his family.
Now, the family income is about a dollar a day, which Jobert earns by taking passengers in and around San Jose on a pedicab that was donated by a relief agency.
That money goes almost immediately on nappies for Bea Joy, plus some eggs and other supplements to the relief food.
Sagalis and Jobert are desperate for more, but not a lot.
“We are hoping we can have the life we had before, a normal life. We hope that we can have a new home, not like this one,” Jobert said.
Asked if she felt fear then, or when she was in labour at the shattered airport compound, Sagalis shook her head in the negative and said: “I just tried to be strong for my baby.” — AFP