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Doctoring Amid Typhoon Haiyan's Ruins


As we've just heard, many Filipinos have been complaining that basic supplies, like food and water have been slow to get through to the city of Tacloban. In the eight days since the massive storm hit, rescue teams have struggled to get through and medical supplies including antibiotics have been held up for days. many hospitals have been badly damaged or destroyed. Reopening hospitals and clinics is a top priority for local officials, but some of the medical facilities will need to be completely rebuilt. Today, we're going to hear about one Tacloban hospital which did remain open throughout the storm. NPR's Jason Beaubien has been spending time there.


JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: The lobby of the Divine Word Hospital in downtown Tacloban has been turned in to a makeshift triage ward. The crowd of patients waiting to be seen spills out into the parking lot. Despite the fact that there's no electricity, nurses are tending to wounds and taking the vital signs of patients on a line gurneys in front of what used to be the pharmacy.

SISTER ELIZA ARPON: This is where we received patients after the storm because we cannot open the ER. So, we just see patients here and give first aid.

BEAUBIEN: Sister Eliza Arpon says the typhoon did extensive damage to the hospital.

ARPON: If you could see around us, this would be a big disaster and here in the first floor the water was up to this level.

BEAUBIEN: She taps her shoulders to show how high the water rose. The flood destroyed equipment and most of the medicine in their pharmacy.

ARPON: Even our food, the provision that we had prepared for the next days after the storm were all submerged. So, we were already afraid that we cannot give food to the patients that were confined prior to the storm.

BEAUBIEN: Sister Eliza says in the immediate aftermath of Haiyan they worked only on an outpatient basis. They bandaged the storm victims that they could and sent the most complicated cases to the regional government hospital near the port.

ARPON: We are going up to the second floor.

BEAUBIEN: More than a week after the storm, the staff at Divine Word Hospital are simultaneously trying to patch up the hospital and take care of patients.

ARPON: Everything is in chaos.

BEAUBIEN: Haiyan ripped the roof off this solid four-story hospital and threw it down in the courtyard. Air conditioning units in the upper floor windows were flung in to the rooms. Windows were smashed. Nurses continue to mop the mud out of wards on the ground floor. On the second floor, Ronico Olarte is laying on a gurney in the hallway. Olarte's left leg was just amputated below the knee.

RONICO OLARTE: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: During the typhoon, he says, one of the cement walls of his house collapsed. Olarte tried to hold it up so his wife and daughter could escape but it fell on his leg and crushed it. He was originally treated at the regional government hospital but when the doctors decided they couldn't save his leg, he was sent here for the amputation. In the courtyard of the hospital, men are shoveling thick black mud that was left behind by the storm surge. They're clearing piles of debris away from a white statue of the Virgin Mary.


BEAUBIEN: In the days after the typhoon, another group of Catholic nuns in Manila sent dozens of boxes of supplies for the Divine Word Hospital but the boxes got caught up in bureaucratic and logistical delays. Some of them got stolen. Assistance however managed to get through from other aid groups and in the end, despite the destruction, Sister Eliza says she feels blessed.

ARPON: We are just so thankful, despite of all this, because you go on. We can survive.

BEAUBIEN: At her hospital in the aftermath of one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, Sister Eliza says prayers and faith accomplished a lot. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Tacloban. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.