Salvacion Island

Monday 25th Nov

We head off at 0645. No trouble waking, between the bells from the church on the hill where people are living; to the roosters all night; to the dogs fighting; to the military guarding us out the front smoking and chatting. Not sure what the guns are, but they are big, automatic and have lots of magazines. 

The team: Garry – team leader, Sandy – ICP, Virginia – RN, Duncan – MD and me. We head to the wharf, or rather what’s left of it, it’s about a 200m walk. There are nine soldiers. All shorter than me. All perfectly presented and keeping us in sight at all times. They take the first boat to the island to ensure our safety. We can see them arrive in the distance. Next to a big white flag, the international signal for “HELP”. The boat returns for us and we board. It’s about 4 meters long, 1 & 1/2 foot wide with bamboo outriggers. The crew push us back. They crank the old diesel engine into action and we putt off. We travel across where the fish farms used to be. We discover later that they ended up on the island, the opposite direction to the typhoon and the initial surge. The locals think they were washed toward Basey and returned with the reverse surge, about 4-6km round trip.

the outrigger that went to Salvacion

the outrigger that went to Salvacion

We approach the island and it looks like a classical tropical island, except it looks as though it has been hit by an invading force of bombs, napalm and I don’t know what. The people say they thought there was an earthquake. It was “THE WAVE” coming. The storm surge is estimated between 3-4 m. I think it has been underestimated.

We land on the beach as the concrete wharf is broken. We all have Thomas packs, fully loaded with fluids, drugs and you name it. We land and jump onto the sand. The military have positioned themselves to protect us. They are inconspicuous, however their presence is known by the locals and appreciated by us. There are about 20-30 people waiting to greet us. We walk toward the church via a concrete path about 3m wide. It is fairly clear, the sides are littered with debris and what is a common site, downed power lines. The island only got power two years ago, which is evident by the new looking cable. Concrete poles are snapped. They won’t have power again any time soon.

On the walk from the wharf to the church there is a broken concrete structure. It has 8 concrete pillars about 18inches round. They are still standing. It had a solid concrete roof about 3m x’s 6m and 18″ thick. The wave picked up the roof and lifted it off the slab. It lies on the ground some distance from the pillars. We think there may be bodies under it. We will never know. In Australia it would be difficult to lift, here it is impossible. They don’t have a wheelbarrow, let alone lifting equipment.

The white flag flaps in the breeze and totally looks like the flag scene in  the famous 9/11 photos.

We have radio contact and we do hourly radio checks to let the people back at the clinic know we are safe. it’s about 2kms line of sight from the island to mainland.

I can smell the death, I don’t want to look in case I see.

We set up in the church, the only thing standing. These people have erected housing from what they could find. If there is another typhoon they will be in big trouble – as if they’re not now.

We do the usual URTI’s, lacerations etc. and lots of BP’s. Sandy does wounds +++.

Community leaders bring in a man about 43 yr old who lost his mother in the storm. He has not eaten since – 17 days. He is withdrawn and reports are that he will not talk. They are worried about his mental health. With an interpreter we talk for a while. He lets me put an IVC in to give him some fluids and maxalon. Time passes and he points out a large laceration on his L) lower leg. It should have been sutured but it hasn’t been. He lets Sandy clean it up and dress it. We establish that he has good family support. John, our interpreter, asks if I think he will suicide. I say I don’t think so, but he has every reason to. He starts to talk through the interpreter and says “Salamat” – thank you.

We work +++, the day’s tally of people treated is rising.

An old lady comes to ask if we can see a man with a “big tummy”. She explains he is too sick to come down to the clinic. The trek to this man takes us to the other side of the island. Over a big hill, down into a valley and up another hill. We are flanked by the military for the whole trek. No-one else notices them but Garry. En route Duncan says to me “did you smell that?” (code 4). We have to climb over lots of fallen palm trees. They have used some of these cover the bodies with palm fronds.

In a tiny shack that must have been over 40 degrees C inside was a very unwell man. He had the worse ascites any of us had ever seen. Duncan estimated a possible 40L of fluid in his abdo. There was nothing we could do for this man. If we drain the ascites he will probably die. He is going to die. It was just about making him comfortable. We gave him some analgesia to ease his pain and trekked back.

the crew on Jinamoc / Salvacion Island

the crew on Jinamoc / Salvacion Island

We get back to the church (clinic) and they have made us lunch. HOOLEY DOOLEY. These beautiful people have been smashed, have lost everything, and they make us lunch. Fresh bread, fish flavoured noodles and rice. I feel bad to eat it but don’t want to insult them. We eat a little bit and then all the helpers dig in. They need it.

We need to pee. We decide the best place is out the wall of the priest’s room through a hole. Pissing in a church is bad!! But no choice. The floor is covered with mud anyway.  The girls decide to hold on. All the statues are smashed. During the storm surge people were hanging on to the ceiling fans, about 4m high. Fark!

I’m sitting opposite a young man, about late 30’s, who just wants his blood pressure checked. He looks seriously fit. BP is ok. He seems to be waiting for something. John the interpreter asks him “is there anything else?” He answers in Filipino and John’s face drops. John is military and to date has just been stoic. He tells me this his man lost his wife, she was 42, and his daughter aged 16yrs and his son, 2 yrs. I stare at him. He stares at me. We both cry. I can’t move. There are about 15 people around us. Our guard has dropped with onlookers so there are people everywhere in the church. I have a packet of Nurofen I am to trying to give this man for his headaches. I can’t move to pass him the Nurofen. I’m not sure how long passes, maybe 10 minutes, feels like 10 years. He stands up, shakes my hand and says “salamat”. He thanks me! I walk away, past the altar into the little priest’s room on the side (where we weed) and full on bawl my eyes out. Ten minutes later and i’m back into the clinic and working.

Triplets Ronniel, Renniel and Rommel and their sister, mother and grandmother

Triplets Ronniel, Renniel and Rommel and their sister, mother and grandmother

A very fit looking man, about 50yrs old I think, comes in to get some lacerations dressed. He was washed from Salvacion to Tacloban! A young boy was washed the other way, from Tacloban past Salvacion and on to Basey. Incredible stories.

an amazing story of survival (click on the link to read it!) 

We are making a difference. We have made a difference to over 130 people today. It’s time to pack up and leave. We have seen all the people we can. We pack up everything. The Thomas packs are much lighter due to all the water we drank. The people line the way to the beach, about 300-400m, to thank us. We are the first medical team to come here after Yolanda. Interestingly, while we’re there three govt medics arrived with lots of medications. They came and went without appearing to do much medicine. They handed out medications and what was left over they gave to us. The local Captain told us they were shamed into coming to Salvacion because we were here.

We wait for the boat on a very clean wharf (they’d been working while we were). There is the white flag, still signifying that they are still in need of help. The look on their faces is one of gratitude, sorrow and fear. The boat is late – island time. The barangay captain can’t see us off as he is too upset. He is a proud man and I had some good conversations with him. He is a man carrying  the weight of his community. He has to keep them going when all their means of income have been destroyed. Fish farms, rice crops – all gone. The irony is the fish farms are washed up onto the island and rice paddys are in the ocean. What a cruel twist.

As we return on the boat some people are walking through the bay, the water only waist deep in places. The water spans about 2kms and is negotiable by these skilled seamen. The boat navigates us back to a different wharf. We have to walk back through the newly built shanties. I spot an Aussie flag in the middle of the damage. This will be handy later as it turns out to be the brother of an ex-pat who has lots of contacts.

aussie flag in rubble

shanty house built with salvaged scraps

shanty house built with salvaged scraps


We walk back to our home base in Basey, passing some very desperate faces. We walk through the back streets for the first time. It has not been cleaned up yet. Where did all this rubbish come from?! It is 2-3m high on either side of the street. The street is still covered in mud. The people have no power and are attempting to light fires with whatever flammable items they can find. We walk into our street which is one of the main ones, and appreciate how much it’s been cleared.

What a day. We have the usual daily debrief. For one of the few times in my life I can’t talk. It is my turn to say how my day went and I can’t complete a sentence. I can only picture the man who lost his wife, his daughter and his son. He was totally vacant, emptied. His daughter, he said, passed school with honours. In other words she had a chance to make it. He now has less than nothing if that is possible.

I just want to cry. I do.

I just want to put some reason into this. I can’t as there is no reason, it is just a mess.

I try to eat some dinner. I can’t.

I try to sleep. How do you go on? You do. If that poor man can, I can.

Their faith keeps them going. I make no comment about that.

Half our group has gone to the island of Salvacion today. We run the clinic, it’s business as usual in here.  The other group radio in that they’re ok every hour. It’s the first time our group has been apart. I’m a little worried for them. I’m not worried about their safety, I’ve never felt the Filipino people to be in any way threatening, although I understand the need for situational awareness and vigilance. In situations with desperate people nothing should be assumed and I’m appreciative of Garry’s constant concern for our safety and the calming presence of the military. I’m worried about the emotional weight of today. After their reccy yesterday Garry and Darryl were quite disturbed by the state of the island and the people. They described a rawness that was palpable and a desperation that we’ve not witnessed till now. 

We stay and run the clinic until it’s time to pack up. We have a record number of people through. Word must be spreading that we’re here, more people keep coming each day. 

After the clinic is all packed away and locked up we head down to the wharf area to wait for the other crew to return. We walk through the rubble of the what was once a beautiful foreshore. The smoke is dreadful this afternoon. We pull our buffs up over our mouths and noses but our eyes still burn. No wonder we see so many respiratory illnesses each day. The burning of rubbish and debris is definitely a health hazard, but there doesn’t seem to be any other way of getting rid of it. 

smoke from burning rubbish

smoke from burning rubbish

We hang down on the foreshore and watch the locals as they construct shanties out of what building materials they can salvage and recycle. A HUGE Globemaster plane flies directly over Basey and then gracefully lands at Tacloban airport. The sun sets and the scene is breathtakingly beautiful, as long as you squint your eyes and look further than the devastation right in front of you. It’s such a juxtaposition of idyll vs holocaust. 

at the wharf - Basey

at the wharf – Basey

Yolanda made a mess of the bay

Yolanda made a mess of the bay

Globemaster landing at Tacloban at sunset

Globemaster landing at Tacloban at sunset


We set up our clinic in what appears to be an old school hall. The people from Victo National in Basey have done an amazing job of cleaning up. It was filled with mud from the storm surge and now you could eat your food off the tiles on the floor.

Our clinic in Basey

Our clinic in Basey

Our clinic in Basey

Our clinic in Basey

No sooner are we set up than patients start pouring in. Sixty plus patients in the first wave.

The presentations vary……

  • hyperglycaemic, insulin washed away
  • infected wounds
  • stress headaches
  • musculoskeletal strains and pains
  • lots of coughs and chest infections
  • lots of kids
  • lots of asthma.
  • and some trauma……..

A 49 yr female presents with R) chest wall pain with haemoptysis. She looked crook. She had been struck in the side of the chest by a fallen tree during the typhoon. Came by motorbike > 30kms. Auscultation reveals no air movement on r) side. Atelectasis, pus and pain.

Treatment – morphine / fluids / AB’s.

Full on!

We have to close at 1600 as there is no power and there’s curfew after dark. We are seeing chronic problems and listening to these people’s stories. Oh My God!!!

Story – One lady tells……

“The water started to recede into the bay and we heard a bang like thunder. Sometimes this means the storm is over.  The water was out so far you could walk to the island. Then suddenly the water started coming in. I was in my house and black swirling water was up to my waist. The water was so quick I got washed out of my house. I grabbed my baby and pulled a curtain down and tied him to me with it.  I couldn’t hold onto to my other children. We were washed out of the house and about 60 meters down the road.  Then I washed into the police station on the 2nd floor. I was so lucky, all my four children and my husband survived. I thought they would be washed out to sea.”

Hooley dooley!!!

They have found 36 bodies in Basey of people who were in Tacloban when Yolanda hit. That’s a distance of over 26 klm’s over water!

The Basey branch of the Victo Co-op had spent the whole of the day before our arrival cleaning a space for us to use as a clinic. They had cleaned what seemed to be an old school hall. The roof was intact, a rare luxury. There were walls to waist height and then bars across the top where windows would have been. The floor was white tiles and they sparkled with the elbow grease and determination of a community thankful for the promise of medical aid.  We were welcomed by the committee and shown to our accommodation (the floor of a couple of houses still standing near to what was now our clinic). The mayor had driven through the town announcing our arrival, so we set up a clinic space as soon as we’d put down our packs. And the people came! We worked until dusk and then had to pack up due to the lack of power and the after-dark curfew.

It wasn’t trauma medicine, time had triaged those with severe injuries from Yolanda, people had either survived or perished.

The main need from the people attending the clinic was Primary Health Care.  The most common presenting problems were wounds and skin infections, headache and musculo-skeletal pains, respiratory tract infections and asthma, fevers and GIT problems.

Sandy's dressing clinic

Sandy’s dressing clinic

Some people with chronic health problems had lost all of their medications. Meds such as antihypertensives, hypoglaecymic agents,  AB’s for TB were all washed away along with their homes.  Lots of parents brought their children in for ‘check-ups’, wanting reassurance that they were ok after the typhoon. 

This baby was born days after Typhoon Yolanda

This baby was born days after Typhoon Yolanda

Then there were the clean-up injuries, lots of cuts and puncture wounds from moving debris. Initially we had no vaccinations but we managed to source some tetanus vaccines and a few ice-packs to keep them, and we gave out all that we had.

We did see some injuries from the typhoon, healing fractures that would have benefitted from reduction / relocation at the time of the injury. Lots of large wounds that were actually healing quite well. An incredible electrocution burn (entry and exit burns) on a surprisingly alive man!

entry and exit electrocution wounds

entry and exit electrocution wounds

 One lady presented with chest pain and cough after being struck by a falling tree during the typhoon. Likely rib fractures (no xray to confirm), purulent haemoptysis, no air entry r) side (side of injury).

When trying to determine how best to treat this lady we immediately thought of all that we would have done “back home” that was impossible to do here. What we found was that instead of relying on xray or CT / pathology / monitoring, we had to fall back to the skills of look / listen / feel and really thinking about the pathophysiology of injury.

Cooperation with the Philippine Military, the RAAF and the American Navy meant that we were able to organise road or air retrieval for persons requiring transfer to the Ausmat Hospital set up in Tacloban Airport, or to the Tacloban Hospital as it regained it’s ability to function. We did make use of that cooperation to transfer a few very sick people.

Many people came to unburden themselves of their story. They came in for “blood pressure check” and after we’d attended all their obs, listened to lung fields, checked them out as A1 physically, then they’d disclose that they’d lost their home, a friend, or a member of their family during the typhoon. What they wanted was reassurance and understanding. They wanted to know that someone, that the international community, cared about their loss. These were the people we felt most at a loss to help. We had analgesics, antibiotics, dressings and fluids with us, but we could do nothing to ease their emotional pain except listen and express our sympathy. We hugged them, we cried with them, we laughed with them and we showed them they mattered. And although that’s not measurable, I feel it made a difference. 




Thursday 21st Nov

Up at 0230 to head to the airport, Airforce Base.
More waiting, that’s ok.

Basey, they tell us has had no medical assistance since the typhoon. Victo Co-op people are trying to clear a house for us. They said it was covered in mud.
The Mayor of Basey is apparently making an announcement that medical teams are coming. We have no idea how many people will be waiting.
The road in was only cleared yesterday with a bulldozer. This place is made up of so many islands, access is difficult to say the least.

At the air base I count twelve C130’s. Two are Australian.
The effort is gaining momentum, this response will go on for months.

Loaded at 0730 into C130. Very very hot. We are in the front, four pallets of cargo behind us. The RAAF are very efficient.

RAAF C130 @ Cebu-Mactan Air Base

RAAF C130 @ Cebu-Mactan Air Base. Photo thanks to Pete Davis

Take off at 0800, arrive Tacloban 0827. Can only glimpse out of the windows as we land as they are so small.

First sight and reaction of Tacloban –
OH MY GOD, it’s absolutely flattened. It looks like Hiroshima. I am writing this 24 hrs later and trying not to cry.
We dock at the airport, what is left of it. The tower is completely demolished. I could describe this for ever, but instead, just imagine the worst war film, and that is it.
We depart the C130 after the cargo. If we got off first the aircraft would tip up. We disembark. No sights I’ve ever seen prepare me for this. The smell is overpowering. Every tree, even the palm trees are snapped off.

Welcome to Tacloban City. The sign survived, the city did not

Tacloban City

Tacloban City


We flew into Tacloban with three Filipino nationals that were returning home to Tacloban. A recently retired Chief of Police and his wife, approx. 70 yrs old who had evacuated a few days after Yolanda, and their daughter, approximate early twenties, who had been in Manila at the time of the typhoon. Their daughter had not seen the devastation caused by Yolanda. She stood at what was once the arrivals lounge transfixed with grief and cried long and silent tears as she took in how obliterated her city was.

Tacloban International Departure Lounge

Tacloban International Departure Lounge

Tacloban International Airport

Tacloban International Airport

Our vehicles arrive and all our luggage is loaded into a jeepney. We get to travel in a Hi-Ace bus whose air-conditioning is the gaps where the makeshift window’s plastic hasn’t been stuck down tightly. We’re happy to have any transport given the state of the city. This organisation obviously has connections.

We head out of Tacloban Airport. The C130’s come and go. All carrying essential cargo and personnel. Germany, USA, France, Korea, Indonesia, Japan and New Zealand are all here. Then we drive single file, 3 vehicles, toward the town of Basey. The rubbish and debris along the roadside is at least two metres high, higher in some places. They have driven a bulldozer down the street so vehicles can get access in and out. We drive endless Km’s of absolute destruction. The faces of the people we pass are like deer in the headlights.

The locals call the typhoon Yolanda, although its international name is Haiyan. Whatever you call it, it was devastating. I shake my head again and again. We drive for about two hours around the huge bay from the airport in Tacloban to Basey. When we arrive at Basey we are stuck behind the bulldozer that is clearing the road. We can’t go any further, but it’s ok, we’ve made it to our destination.
It’s best not to look at the bulldozer moving all the debris. A man walks behind and checks for bodies. Yes, they find them. It’s been 14 days since Yolanda and they are still finding bodies as they start the epic job of cleaning up. Some people still don’t know where their family members are.

Clearing debris - Basey

Clearing debris – Basey

We hear that of the Eastern Visaya’s 983 police personnel, only 34 reported for duty after the Typhoon. The rest of them are presumed either dead or missing. We are greeted by the local hierarchy and the Mayor. We are shown to a building, a large shed with a tiled floor and no windows, just bars. This will be our clinic. We’re also shown our lodgings. We will be sleeping on the concrete floor in the houses of those families who did not lose their home. It seems to me these people had very little to begin with, now it is all gone. All the stuff that had been washed away, including people,  is now piles of debris with bodies hidden inside.

We put our bags down. The clinic is across the road. We decide to set up straight away and work the afternoon.

We’re waiting for the C130 to be loaded and ready for us to board. The military air base is a hive of international activity. There are Red Cross, World Health, a German team that is 1/2 medics and 1/2 technicians, they have a huge crate with them that has enclosed in it some kind of contraption that purifies water and produces electricity at the same time. There are French Search and Rescue and media from all over the world. We’re all waiting for a chance to get on a plane. Inside the office space is buzzing with all the different languages frantically trying to sort their own logistics. There’s also a heart felt letter of thanks from a Lieutenant General on behalf of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, thanking the international community for their support, sticky taped to the wall. 

Letter of thanks

Letter of thanks

As I sit outside in our group waiting and watching the activity of military aircraft coming and going one of the RAAF guys comes and starts a conversation. He’s a Loadmaster and has been with the RAAF a few years. He has been part of disaster responses before. He’s a friendly, rugged, typical Aussie bloke. He tells me a story………..

“Soon after we got here we started doing evacuations of refugees from Tacloban. We had a full C130 of frightened and shell-shocked people. Most of them have never flown before in their lives. They were crying with fear and praying before we even took off. The weather was awful and the flight was rough, and to make matters worse we were still looking for survivors so we were flying low and taking the bumpy route. People were screaming every time we lurched. Then they all got motion sickness and started to vomit. I felt so sorry for them, it was such a miserable ride and they were already so traumatised. We unloaded them all here in Cebu, then went back in to clean up. I found they had written us thank you notes on the backs of the clean sick bags. They had such a dreadful time, but they still took the time to write ‘Thank you for rescuing us’ ‘thank you for bringing us to safety’  I was overwhelmed by their gratitude, to thank us after that experience. I just ……..”

             He didn’t finish his sentence. His eyes welled with tears and he strode off to ready our plane. 

We boarded the C130 after pallet loads of equipment and relief supplies had been loaded. It felt incredible walking  out onto the tarmac and loading into a RAAF Hercules (check them out here……. RAAF C-130J Hercules )

 Less than 30 mins later and we were landing in Tacloban. Nothing could adequately prepare us for what we saw next. The airport was destroyed. The city around the airport was destroyed, and the city behind that as far as the eye could see. The mountains behind the flattened city that would have once been lush with vegetation, looked like a large angry giant had taken to them with clippers, every tree was snapped off. There was not a leaf or branch left intact. Power lines were twisted and snarled into tangles of now useless cable. Concrete pillars reinforced with steel had been broken and relocated, thrown about like pick-up-sticks. Huge trucks were balanced precariously on top of collapsed buildings. There was a ship on it’s side in the main street, pushed there by the force of the enormous storm surge wave that followed the typhoon. There were shanty buildings appearing, lean-to’s made of a piece of bent corrugated iron and not much else, with families huddled inside.

Makeshift accommodation in Tacloban

 Scrawled on walls that were left standing were messages of desperation “help us please”, “we need food”, written large enough to be seen from the air.

Most disturbing was the extent of the destruction. We drove through the obliterated city of Tacloban and then drove for two hours north, and it never looked any better. It would have been the same if we’d driven south. The swathe of destruction cut straight through the middle of the Visayas, from the eastern side of the Philippines all the way through to the west. Even then Yolanda wasn’t finished, she battered the coast of Vietnam before dragging her dwindling force into China. 

The road into Basey was being  cleared ahead of our arrival. There were piles of debris over 2 meters high all along the sides of the road. The amount of debris was unfathomable. It just went on and on and on. And this was two weeks after the typhoon! 

The debris on the balcony shows the height of the surge wave

The debris on the balcony shows the height of the surge wave


Tuesday 19/11/13

Not too many tasks leave me feeling a little (or a lot!) cautious / scared. This one does. All reports are that Tacloban is a mess. One of the few doctors there sent a message out on BBC World News that he was exhausted.

At the boarding gate for our Silk Air flight, Singapore to Cebu. Now it’s starting to look serious. A group of French Search And Rescue fellas are in the security line with us. Followed soon after by a group of German Medics. It’s 11 days since the Typhoon hit and we are only now getting there. Still working out if that’s a good or a bad thing?!
The TV footage made me sad. Not sure how I’ll feel about the real thing.
We bought some Tiger Balm at the airport, as you do in Singapore. This is for a different reason. It is recommended for putting on your mask so all you can smell is Tiger Balm. EEEEEKK!!

We are now 60 mins from landing in Cebu. From there we may be split into two groups. One to Tacloban and one to work in Cebu hospital. It’s a wait and see. The French doctor is snoozing and it sounds like Murwillumbah when we have downtime. Did I ever mention the crew at M’bah are the best?

Ange is bubbling along as usual although we both have admitted that we’re a little scared. I don’t mind that, it means I’ll be on  my guard. My 33rd year as a paramedic and you would think I was bullet proof. NAH! 

One of the doctors, Graham, just asked me how I’m going. ‘Thanks mate, not too bad.’ Sometimes that’s all it takes.
Looking around at the other passengers on the plane, how they are responding to this mess, some are snoozing, some are reading airline magazines.

They serve us a meal on the plane. We keep eating the airline food, in case it’s the last decent food we get for a while. I have had four ‘last decent meals’ already. The CRUNCH has to come. If we go to Tacloban tomorrow it will likely be a Hercules aircraft. I think that’s when it will get serious.

I am surrounded by good people who have done an amazing job organising this deployment. I can only imagine the bureaucracy and hurdles they have and will encounter.

Wednesday 20th Nov

Waiting at Victo Haus in Cebu. Garry is trying to organise the connections deploy us to Tacloban. Victo National are a fantastic organisation, a cooperative / credit union that are helping us to get where we are most needed. Check out their website, they’re well worth supporting.

Informed we have a 12 hour ferry trip to get to Tacloban as the C130 is not available. Then a 5-6 hour road trip to get to our destination.

1700 hours, that plan gets cancelled, moving on to plan Z…..

We spend the day repacking and checking all our bags and doing some team building and in-service education with each other.
The accommodation is good in Cebu. The people are amazing.

Pete, our link between Right Connections and Victo National has come down with gastro requiring attention. We cannulate, medicate and rehydrate.

Before dinner we give the Victo people a hand to get all the aid they’ve put into relief packs onto the truck. We form a production line and make short work of it. It’s good to be doing something and they’re stoked we pitched in.

20131120_185250                   20131120_190121                                                                 20131120_190833

After dinner Garry returns and advises that we are bumped up the list for the C130. Departure at 0700 tomorrow. We are inbound for Tacloban and then road trip to Basey.

19 November via Mobile

 ” Hi all, I’m safe in Singapore, boarding soon for Cebu. Still not sure of the plans from there but feeling ok. Am with a lovely group of people. Will keep in touch as I can. Love you all xxxxxxxx”

We flew Brisbane – Singapore, then on to the Philippine island of Cebu. In the boarding lounge of the Silk Airlines flight to Cebu the nature of the passengers changed dramatically. We queue to board with a French Search and Rescue Team and a team of German Medics.  On the flight to Cebu I sat beside a Filipino woman who works and resides in Australia. She was on her way home to a town near Tacloban to reunite with her children. Both her and her husband worked abroad and the children lived with their grandparents. She looked physically and emotionally exhausted but she described her relief at knowing her children had survived. 

“Bangon Visaysas” is a phrase I began to see and hear repeated from the moment we landed in the Philippines. Bangon means ‘rise up’ in the Filipino language of Tagalog and the Visayas is the collection of islands that were most devastated by the recent Super Typhoon. On landing in the Philippines we also learnt that typhoons have an international name and a local name. The Filipino people referred to this typhoon by her local name Yolanda.




Wednesday 13th Nov I received notification that I was on a short list and a request for further CV details and any experience in major incident and disaster management.

Thursday 14th I flew to Mt Isa to attend the funeral of a friend. I arrived home at 0200hrs.

Friday 15th – Advised by Medical Rescue that we were definately going and to confirm availability to be at Brisbane Airport within eight hours. Confirmed same via return email.

Ambulance Service NSW had been advised and D.O.M. G. Eady and Z. M. W. McKenna were very helpful. Staff at Murwillumbah Station were brilliant in assisting with covering shifts

Late Friday, still no confirmation. Gathering essential items and preparing “panic packs”  for the three of us locals that were advised of impending deployment.

Purchased a range of mosquito repellents and nets from  Outdoorism  and given a hefty discount and extra gifts from them.

Saturday 16th – I’m advised via email to remain on standby but to ‘enjoy the weekend’ which I figured was a bit of hint of delayed departure.

Logistic and security problems have put our response on hold. The work behind the scenes continues at a frenetic pace. Amazing how brilliantly some people respond in these situations.

The hint was right, not too much movement over the weekend. Late Sunday night advised I am being deployed, but still on hold.

Monday morning 18th Nov – advised the response team size has been downsized due to security and cost. I don’t get the cost thing in these situations, I UNDERSTAND it, but I just don’t get it.

So we’re informed – “Be at Brisbane International Airport 18:15”!!


At Brisbane airport there’s a briefing and distribution of Thomas Packs (medical kits). We each receive a Thomas Pack and are responsible for checking and maintaining same.

A little bewildered. Here I am with a pack the size of an average back pack and the place I’m heading to is devastated.  They say ‘every little bit helps’ – this seems ridiculous!

We meet everyone, three doctors, four paramedics, four nurses. Garry is the team leader and has the task of advising, guiding and ensuring this response is a success. Whatever a success is in these circumstances. We board a Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore. Our group is broken up and we are seated in groups of 3 and 4 throughout the plane due to the late booking. Seven and a half hour flight, arrive in Singapore at 0540 hrs. Get a little sleep on the flight.

departing Brisbane International Airport


“Sitting in the international departures lounge, waiting to head off. Nervous about what’s ahead but glad to be able to make even a small dint in the enormous need in the Philippines.
Thank you thank you thank you to all my beautiful friends and family for all your support, blessings, love and confidence in me. You have no idea how much it means to me and how I will draw on that in difficult times.
I will do my best to do you all proud.

(my pack & my kit)”

After four days of being on standby we finally got the go ahead. An awkward mix of relief – no more waiting, a bit of excitement to be off on an adventure, and bucket loads of trepidation and anxiety.

I phoned Bron, my sister, and she asked if I was a bit scared, the reply “VERY”. I started recounting some of my fears to her….”what if I’m in way over my head? What if this is more than I’m capable of? What about obstetrics? I’m not a midwife, maybe I can cram in a quick online course in the 3 hours before I leave!”

Bron replied….”that’s not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is you could get shot. “Nothing like my family to bring me back down to earth! Then she reminded me that anything I do will be helpful…. “just do what you can and you will make a difference, don’t fret about what you can’t do.” I determined I would remind myself of this when feeling overwhelmed.

At the airport we met the rest of team. What a humbling, surreal and amazing feeling to be part of the team of 10 selected to go. Over 500 applications, 50 selected to go, culled down to ten at the last minute, and I am one of them!

We all rifled through our newly acquired Thomas Packs checking out what’s in them and trying to quickly familiarise ourselves with what would essentially be our store room for this trip. Publicity shots were taken for Ferno who donated the packs and for Medical Rescue to try to attract more funding. Channel 7 took some footage as well.

Then we waited and got to know each other a little (or at least try to remember names in my case).


On Friday the 8th November 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan swept across the Philippines and destroyed everything in her path. The areas that experienced the worst of her ferocity were the Visayas

Meteorologists warned of the intensity of the typhoon as it was developing but there was little locals could do to prepare. 

Initial reports were of more than 4,000 people killed and up to 4.4 million displaced — twice the number that lost their homes after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Later figures rose over 6,000 confirmed dead and almost 2,000 still missing. The number of people displaced by the typhoon has risen to 16 million people!

According to the International Labour Organisation, around five million workers — equivalent to the population of Norway — had their livelihoods temporarily or permanently destroyed.

In the days that followed the first images starting appearing on TV and social media and  it became obvious that the people of the Philippines were in desperate need of support.  

“On Tue 12th Nov. I was driving from Singleton after a roster consultation meeting when I heard of a request from Medical Rescue for Doctors, Nurses and Paramedics to volunteer to respond to the Philippines Typhoon disaster.

I sent a very basic email with my name and qualifications and waited……….”