Former TVF&R leader Kirk Hale assists victims of typhoon in Philippines
Thats the term Kirk Hale used, more than once, to describe the devastation he saw when he landed in the Philippines on Nov. 22.
He was part of a crew that helped coordinate relief efforts in the aftermath of a devastating typhoon that struck the country earlier in November and left millions displaced.
The roof and windows at the airport were blown out. The streets were littered with snapped power poles and cable lines. Debris was everywhere, still displaced from the record winds that struck the Philippines two weeks before Hales team of volunteers arrived.
Massive devastation, Hale said. Almost like a war zone.
But Hale, a retired deputy chief with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue who lives in West Linn, was prepared for all of that. Hed arrived at the island of Cebu as part of a team organized by the Tigard-based Medical Teams International nonprofit organization, and his mission was to help displaced citizens find some sense of relief amidst the wreckage.
According to the most recent government estimates, Typhoon Haiyan caused more than 6,000 deaths and 27,000 injuries while displacing 4 million citizens. In the aftermath of the storm, foreign aid workers from around the world rushed into the country to help survivors.
My job was what they call the incident commander, overseeing all of the operations, Hale said. There was a command post in Cebu, and from there, we had two camps set up in the heart of the destruction, one in Guiuan and another in Tacloban. Both camps had teams of doctors, nurses and paramedics.
Hales job was to coordinate the efforts, working alongside a slew of organizations from all around the world. He split his time between Cebu and the camps in Guiuan and Tacloban, and found that the health-related needs were mostly routine in nature.
In the beginning, there was some trauma, Hale said. But it was mostly routine day-to-day illness, treatment for diabetes and other sicknesses... the countrys health care (system) had been basically wiped out.
It took about an hour by plane, and days by boat, to reach Guiuan and Tacloban from Cebu, and Hale said one of the primary organizational issues was simply finding transportation.
At the beginning, it was very difficult getting supplies out to the camps, because everything had to go through the military C-130 planes, Hale said. So their resources were going out first, and a lot of the smaller nongovernmental organizations were trying to get some boxes and people of ours on the plane.
When (the military) could, they would, but sometimes we couldnt get out and had to go to the boats.
When they did reach the camps, it was clear some of the typhoon victims were seeing their first source of relief, even weeks after the storm hit.
They were cheering and high-fiving the doctors and nurses, Hale said. Just happy to see someone come and care for them. Theres lots of little villages and islands in the Philippines, so it took many, many weeks, and I think theyre still working on villages that havent been seen yet.
In one particular case at the Tacloban camp, an 11-year-old girl with a fractured leg was carried to rescue workers on a piece of plywood. The leg had likely been fractured since the typhoon hit, Hale said, but the girl was treated and transported to surgery in time to make a recovery.
That was rewarding, Hale said.
After two harsh weeks living in hot, humid conditions with little sanitation, Hale returned to Oregon late in the evening Dec. 8. His team was replaced by another from Medical Teams International, and Hale said the nonprofits work will likely continue through January before the situation is reassessed.
Going forward, well maybe try to provide more mental health care from the stress, Hale said. Try to treat some of the mental effects of major loss and help people cope.
To learn more about Medical Teams International and its work in the Philippines, visit medicalteams.org/what_we_do/disaster_response/philippines.