By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
At the point where the tarmac meets the driveway, dozens of volunteers stood in wait like an army bracing for the enemy’s charge.
Their eyes were on the C130 plane taxiing the runway. It landed just before 11 p.m., an hour after another C130 came in, dropped its load, took in a different load, and flew out again.
The volunteers were huddled against an invisible line straddling that point. Their arms and hands full: on some, piles of fast food meals, on others, small bottles of mineral water. Some grasped folded shirts with both hands.
As they looked on, a woman’s voice boomed on a loudspeaker: “Volunteer drivers, please stand by.”
Then, the C130’s cargo unloaded. People stepped down the ramp into a curved line to where the volunteers waited. Most walked. A few were pushed in wheel chairs. The worst were carried in stretchers.
As the walkers approached, the arms and hands sprang to action. The arrivals were handed food, water, and clothes. All that as a cheer and applause rose from the volunteers welcoming them. The volunteers were not greeting an enemy, but compatriots in distress.
The scene happens nearly every hour at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City, which is the entry point of those who survived super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). To some, Villamor is a gateway to respite from the chaos. For others, to a new life far from the devastation.
As relief is brought in droves to Eastern Visayas and kind hearts spend money and time for efforts being sent there, others are helping out closer to home by meeting the exodus of survivors to Luzon.
This was the 23rd airlift in three days from Tacloban City, Leyte and the last that night to Villamor. Many expected the earlier 10 p.m. flight to be the last C-30 trip. But no one minded the late addition.
The newly-arrived refugees weaved past the welcoming throng into the driveway, made narrow by a large military tent. Some of them entered the tent, where more volunteers checked on their vitals, treated wounds, offered a resting place for the children, or simply ears to listen.
Not all the refugees had relatives or friends waiting to fetch them. In came the volunteer drivers, or “Oplan Hatid,” as they’ve dubbed it. People offered free rides to those who gave an address, some to as far as the Bicol region.
As one volunteer, Alexys Delgado, told ANC, the survivors did not expect to be greeted this way.
“They thought that as soon as they got out of the C130, they would just have to find their own way home,” she said. “They’re very happy to see people welcoming them here to give them food and water.”
Those who had no place to stay were brought to the social welfare department’s housing center for street families. Now, a compound of tents is being prepped to take them in.
Corporate foundations shoulder a lot of the services, but even small ounces of help are welcome. One mother moved around to assist those feeding their babies. She’s working with other breastfeeding mothers to provide breast milk to survivors. Afar off, a group of friends readied a large piping pot of lugaw.
The parking lot resembled a trade expo or shopping bazaar. Survivors who arrived with only the clothes on their back came out with bags of freebies. Rows of adjacent tents that included a makeshift children’s day care area met them on the way out.
The need for volunteers does not end, as more and more survivors come in. At 250 arrivals per flight, the number is already past 9,000.
“We don’t even appeal for help,” Alice Bonoan, the social welfare director for Metro Manila, told reporter Apples Jalandoni. She says people just arrive and offer what their agency cannot give.
“You get overwhelmed. But because we have many people here, we know we will be able to service families who come in.”
For each planeload of survivors that touches down, a mass of people lines up hoping to hitch a ride back. Among them are those who’ve had no word about family members in Leyte and want to go find them. Some already flew in from Tacloban but had relatives who did not get a ride.
But the military has no room amid the sacks and boxes of relief goods it must load first into the returning flights. The turnover is quick: 30 minutes after landing, the plane flies back stocked.
At the bleachers of the grandstand overlooking the tarmac, the stranded and the waiting spend the night.
There are bright spots on nights like this. Jenny and a male relative searched through the bleachers carrying signs printed with “Josephine” and “Adonis Pamugas”. They found Josephine putting her daughter to sleep and rushed to hug her. Adonis, Josephine’s husband, was still in Tacloban.
“We just tried our luck coming here, in case she rode on the C130, ” Jenny said as she and Josephine wiped off tears.
“We couldn’t sleep worrying about them. Good thing, by God’s mercy, they’re already here.”