Her mother has given her the name Bea Joy, the tiny baby born against all the odds in the devastated Philippine city of Tacloban, destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. The birth of this little baby girl brought a momentary respite from the horrors of the situation, described today by the head of the Red Cross as “absolute bedlam.”
Cheers rang around the crumpled airport terminal as Bea Joy made her way into this uncertain world. Emily Ortega, 21, was cowering in a shelter when the storm broke. Heavily pregnant, she clung onto a post as the flood waters rushed in. Somehow, she made her way over to the slightly safer compound of the ruins of the airport. Here, among broken glass, twisted metal and the remnants of a once functional airbase, she gave birth. She was assisted in her delivery by a military doctor. Baby Bea’s birth is considered “near miraculous” in these appalling circumstances.
Beatriz Joy Sagales has been named after her Grandmother who is assumed to have perished when she was swept away by the tsunami-like waves that pounded the shores of the coastal towns and villages across its 300 mile storm front. Typhoon Haiyan is widely considered to be the most ferocious ever recorded.
In a city where 10,000 souls are estimated to have perished, the birth of one is an exceptionally rare moment of hope.
Another lady who is eight months pregnant was beside herself with grief as she tried to come to terms with what had happened. She has lost 11 members of her family, including two of her daughters in the brutal typhoon. “I can’t think right now. I am overwhelmed,” she sobbed.
As aid agencies struggle to cope with the scale of this disaster, another small story of human survival has emerged. An officer in the Philippine Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Fermin Carangan, has told of how a seven year old boy helped him to hang onto life.
Carangan and 41 other officers had taken shelter in an office in their airport when “suddenly the sea water and the waves destroyed the walls,” and to his horror “I saw my men being swept by the waters one by one.” As he too was caught by the powerful currents he managed to grab hold of a coconut tree.
The 7-year-old boy was already clinging to the tree. For five hours, the officer and the child remained in this perilous position. “We were in the sea buffeted by wind and strong rain” explained the Lieutenant Colonel. The little boy was tired and wanted to succumb to sleep. If he had done so he would surely have lost his grasp and been drowned. “I kept on talking to the boy and giving him a pep talk because the boy was telling me he was tired.”
After 5 hours, as the typhoon raged, Carnagan finally saw land, and he encouraged the boy to swim with him to a beach. They crawled ashore to a scene of carnage, with the bodies of the dead all around them. “I think the boy saved my life because I found strength so that he can survive.”
A massive fundraising effort is now underway worldwide. The New York based International Rescue Committee (IRC) has launched a £10 million appeal to source essential help and supplies for the victims. The UK government has pledged an immediate £6 million and are sending shelter kit and water purification supplies to Tacloban.
Save the Children, among many aid agencies who already had a team on the ground, lost contact with their staff over the weekend, but are relieved to discover they are safe. Gareth Owen, humanitarian director for Save the Children, said they had faced many disasters in the past but “frankly, nothing on this scale.”
One tiny scrap symbolizes survival in this chaos: Tiny Bea Joy, whose mother is doubtless torn between relief and grief as she cradles the precious newborn in her arms.
By Kate Henderson