Lessons from Haiyan

By on June 18, 2014

This is one of a series of blog posts from the third ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. The deadline to apply for this year’s fellowship closed on June 6. Fellow Armie Garde is assistant content editor and multimedia journalist for Sun.Star Publishing, Cebu City, Philippines.

Seven months after Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) devastated Central Philippines, killing thousands, survivors are slowly rebuilding their lives. Many things have changed, but life goes on. Hope is evident.

I have spent most of my life in Leyte, one of the storm-hit provinces, before I moved to Cebu City to study and to work eventually. Back home and in nearby Samar, Cebu and Iloilo provinces, thousands of people were killed, thousands of others were left homeless and displaced and many others are still missing even seven months after Haiyan’s devastation.

Haiyan has changed the lives of many, including mine. I lost my childhood home, too — the keeper of my childhood treasures — but it hardly matters anymore. Everyone in our family survived, and I couldn’t ask for more.

Three weeks after Typhoon Haiyan hit Central Philippines, I visited my hometown in Dagami, Leyte and found what was left of our house of dreams. (Photo by Felisa Garde)

Reporting in the wake of Haiyan was extremely difficult. It took me four days before I knew that my parents and other relatives survived. Meanwhile, I was filing my first stories, updating the list of survivors, and monitoring the death toll. It was hard for me not to be emotional while reporting ongoing news developments, not knowing whether my loved ones were safe.  

Now that I know my family is safe, I’ve realized the typhoon gave back a few lessons, as well, that will shape my work going forward.

Safety first

In times of disaster, as we begin reporting, the mantra should also be safety first. Our team went to some of the badly affected areas only several hours after Haiyan made its multiple landfalls, when there were no longer strong winds. We wanted to go to Tacloban City to report the aftermath of the storm surge, but communication lines were down, transportation was difficult, and most of the typhoon-hit areas were not secure. We had to wait for several days to enter the area. Our editors have always been reminding us that no story is worth your life.

Focusing on comprehensive coverage

Haiyan made me rethink my role and responsibilities as an online journalist, both before and after the typhoon. I saw the need to produce more comprehensive coverage on the national and local government’s disaster preparation programs and activities. Disseminating public warning signals, among others, is equally important, and doing it is made easier and the reach wider now because of available technology.

There is also a need to look into the current disaster risk reduction programs of the local and national goverments; how the government actually implements these programs in the barangay (village) or municipal level; the preparedness of each barangay or municipal government for flooding, landslides, earthquakes, typhoons, among others; and government allocation for its disaster programs and how much goes to the local governments.

The Sun.Star is producing a series of disaster awareness reporting for its Sun.Star Pilipinas webcast. Our team will look into the development of the proposed Cebu City Command Center, which will be installed phase by phase to serve as the central communications facility, staffed 24 hours and seven days a week. The Command Center will receive emergency calls, dispatch appropriate response units and agencies and monitor daily peace and order and public safety operations of the city.

On that day before Haiyan made six landfalls in Central Philippines, I was on the eighth floor of a building in Cebu overlooking the city to take atmosphere shots of the calm cityscape, clear sky and sea. I also produced video reports of the contingency plans of local government units and of the preparations of the Philippine Coast Guard.

Continuing coverage on the survivors, loss of life, damage to property and relief operation is also important.

Haiyan tore our hearts apart, but it also brought people from different parts of the world together. It taught many people — myself included — valuable lessons. I will forever be grateful to everyone who continuously prayed and worked to help the survivors of Haiyan.


Fellow Armie Garde is assistant content editor and multimedia journalist for Sun.Star Publishing, Cebu City, Philippines. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Cebu College.