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When Typhoon Haiyan tore through The Philippines late last year, SBS presenter and reporter Kathy Novak was quickly on the scene. As the death toll climbed to 6,000 people, with millions more displaced, Kathy was also desperately worried that members of her own family may have been amongst the casualties. Many of her relatives live in Tacloban, the epicentre of the storm. Seven months on, with the next typhoon season approaching, she returned to see how the family and the community are coping.




REPORTER: Kathy Novak




So we're just checking in here on our flight to Tacloban. It's a bit strange, we're putting fragile tags on our luggage over here. I'm just thinking the last time I went to Tacloban, it was on an Airforce Hercules and there was no airport to land in so the baggage claim didn't matter that much.




I'm heading back to my grandfather's home town with my Uncle Nestor, it looks a bit different to last time. At least there's a roof and baggage claim, but still not much else. So this is where I arrived the last time I was in Tacloban, obviously it's better, they've done a little bit of rebuilding. There's a ceiling where there wasn't one before.




As you can see this is absolutely pouring with rain, so many people gathered here trying to get out. They're waiting to be evacuated. I was here, then, to cover the crisis for SBS News, but for me it was more than just an assignment. Tacloban is home to my huge extended family. We lost one of our relatives in the typhoon.




Seven months later I'm back to see how my family is coping and I'm wondering if the city is ready for the next typhoon season, which is fast approaching. There are smiles again, and signs of rebuilding, but it's clear to me already there's still so much to do. Knowing how things work, or often don't, in The Philippines, I can't say I'm surprised. My uncle Nestor, or Tito as I call him in the Filipino language - Tagalog - has been repairing his place since the storm.





REPORTER: How high was the water?


NESTOR: The water was this high.


We are his first guests, we considered staying with him in the typhoon, but he tells me there were too many dead bodies out the front. Around the corner my Uncle Gerry and Aunt Ludette run a restaurant. It took a battering in the storm. Gerry was bunkered down inside.




GERRY: I would like to think that eventually things would improve. I've always said this, that we have reached rock bottom. There's no other way but up.




His wife was overseas, franticly trying to find out if he had survived.




LUDETTE: Well, this is me, no more crying.


REPORTER: The last time we saw Mrs Ludette was in Cebu Airport Airport coming to find you. She was a little frantic.




They made the decision to stay and rebuild but many people left, never to return. Families, including mine, were split.


NANI: Our life here was simple and it was pleasant. It was nice. You'd only think it happened in the movies.


As the storm water rose, my cousin Nani and her husband were forced to swim to safety, clutching their two little boys.


NANI: When the water came rushing in very quickly, you had no choice but to get out. But, you know, the first thing that would come into your mind was what if something happens to my babies?




They ran a grocery store out the front of their house. As desperation grew, their business became a target for looters. Worried about the impact of the trauma on their sons, they decided to leave and start a new life in a new city. Her parents have been trying for months to convince her to come home, at least for a visit. She's finally agreed.




REPORTER: Is it good to have the grandkids back together?




GERRY: Yes, definitely.


It's a different city to the one Nani remembers. Some buildings have been repaired. Many still lie in ruins. There's rubble on the streets everywhere and so many people still are living in tents. Seeing the remnants of their church is one of the hardest moments for Nani.


REPORTER: You've seen pictures but not in person? It's really upsetting?


NANI: It is. It's different when you're actually there. You see it and you can just imagine what happened there during the typhoon.


REPORTER: And this is your church?


NANI: Yes, this is our church. My husband and I come here every Sunday.




People here are used to typhoons. About eight or nine make landfall every year. But what made this one different and what killed thousands of people was the five metre wall of water that swept through like a tsunami. This is where the storm surge first hit and it travelled much further than anyone expected. It carried water hundreds of metres inland to properties that would usually be considered safe, including my family's homes.




All over the city there's evidence of how damaging that surge and the winds were. It's all part of the scenery as we head out to visit more relatives. My Uncle Don lives by himself in the family's ancestral home.


DON: This is where I hide, I covered myself with the door.




REPORTER: So, you were down here crouched underneath the door and you were thinking...




DON: I was just praying, I was praying because I grew up with storms and typhoons, almost every month, but this is the only time I really had to pray hard.


He kept the door that saved his life.




DON: Now Ii realise being alone is not a good thing to do.


REPORTER: Can I give you a hug?


Another relative, Lourdes, lives up the road. Her sister was in her 90s and was bed ridden when the storm hit. She's saying that her older sister was here at the time and she was sitting on that sofa there. The water came up to here. I can barely reach it where the water was. It lifted the sofa up and they were hanging on to a pole. She survived by lying on this couch which floated but she died of pneumonia a few days later.




It is emotional hearing my family's stories but I know the reality is that despite the loss, the trauma, and the damage to their homes, they were the lucky ones. There are so many others who lost their entire families, their homes, and their livelihoods and many who survived are still living in appalling conditions.


Many of the dead were buried in mass graves, this one lists 22 members of the same family. Looking at it I was wondering who made that memorial - was it a friend? A neighbour? Or was it a member of the family who survived? And then, is it worse to be one of the people listed on that memorial or to be the one left behind mourning all of them?




The storm surge was so powerful that it picked up this ship and wedged it into the shore. It's been stuck here since November and all along the water were hundreds of squatters living in makeshift houses. Now you can just imagine if the typhoon was strong enough to do this to a ship, those homes didn't stand a chance, and yet people have come back and built the same flimsy houses in the same place.


They say if they want to feed their families, this is where they have to be, fishing is one of the major industries. This man comes to the market to sell his catch with his grandson. He knows more typhoons will come but he says he will just evacuate when they do. I'm hoping someone has a better plan for him than that.


REPORTER: Mayor Romualdez, hello.




MAYOR ALFRED ROMUALDEZ: Pleased to meet you.


REPORTER: You, too.


This is how Mayor Alfred Romualdez remembers the typhoon. He had to climb through the rafters to escape the rising water.


MAYOR ALFRED ROMUALDEZ: Had I been late for just a minute, I would have died.


He says about 50,000 people, like this family, are living in the danger zone. He wants to move them to safer ground as part of his master plan for the city, but even if these families are willing to go, it will take months, if not years, before they can be moved.


REPORTER: So realistically, it will be too late by the time these people will be moved, even into transitional shelters, the next typhoon season will come first?


MAYOR ALFRED ROMUALDEZ: Things still stay the same, but it's purely the local government that will be tasked to give the temporary shelters. We can't do it.


Most of the houses, even temporary ones, are not ready yet. Thousands, all over the province, are still living in tents.


LOUIE: That's the worst day I've ever experienced before. Ever in my life.


Louie's wife was pregnant when the typhoon hit. Their three-month-old baby had lived her whole life in this tent and she's likely to spend her first birthday here, at least. When the evacuees eventually are relocated, they are moved to places like this.


REPORTER: Kathy Novak from SBS Television Australia. Hi.


This is Panfilo Lacson, they call him the rehab czar. His job is to oversee the rebuild for the Federal Government. He's flown in from Manilla, joined by other politicians, who have rolled out the red carpet, seemingly for themselves.


PANFILO LACSON: By international standards tents are only good for 2 months after two months, it invites a lot of social problems.


So, seven months on, why is work only just starting on this project? Red tape has a lot to do with it.


PANFILO LACSON: There's bureaucracy in any government anywhere in the world. I would rather do this, because this is public funds, it is public money.


Mayor Alfred Romualdez says it's worse than just bureaucracy. He has accused the Federal Government of incompetence.


MAYOR ALFRED ROMUALDEZ: The problem is land. It took us time to get land and to develop the land in order to put now temporary shelters there. That's the difficulty. We've been asking support from the national government.


Whatever the reasons, or excuses, progress is slow but the task is huge. Some people, though not very many, are moving into homes like this. They're being built with help from NGOs. The politicians reject suggestions that those with friends in high places get resettled first. The deal is, evacuees have to help with the construction project to qualify for a house. Elsewhere people are rebuilding their own homes and lives. Some of the emotional damage is much harder to repair.


GERRY: I have to keep myself busy, that's the secret. Otherwise we start to get, you start to get depressed. So, to keep yourself busy is the secret.




Gerry has always maintained his stoic attitude, but I can't help but get a bit upset thinking about how the typhoon has changed this place and its people.


REPORTER: It's hard to hear, it's my family. I feel, I just... I feel bad for them. I feel bad for my family.


I came here knowing more typhoons will inevitably hit this region. This year's storm season is due any day now. Is Tacloban ready? I fear the answer is no and the best people can hope for is that the next typhoon just isn't as destructive as Haiyan. Talking to people here it seems most of them accept that. As Filipinos do, they're trying to move on with a smile and a little help from family.







ANJALI RAO: Kathy Novak filming and reporting and producer Maggie Palmer with the second camera. You can go on our website to read about the plight of those recovering from the typhoon. There's a photo gallery showing the rebuild and progress in one of the hardest-hit areas.




Reporter/Camera
KATHY NOVAK




Producer/Camera
MEGGIE PALMER




Fixers
NESTOR DOLINA
PAOLO DOLINA




Editor
WAYNE LOVE




Stills courtesy of Paolo Dolina, Gerry Ruiz, Edgardo Roy Dolina, Nestor Dolina and Butz Eguia




Additional footage courtesy of Nani Ruiz-Banzon, Mayor Alfred Romualdez and Telegraph Media Group Limited 2014




17th June 2014