MANILA, Republic of the Philippines – As the military aircraft carrying over a 120 evacuees comes to a standstill, volunteers rush to assist the people off of the plane and into an evacuation center.
The volunteers, with various non-government organizations, work together to provide support to the civilian evacuees flying into Villamor Air Base Nov. 17 during Operation Damayan.
Typhoon Haiyan impacted more than 4.2 million people across 36 provinces in the Philippines, according to the Philippine government’s national disaster risk reduction and management council. While the Philippine government is leading the relief effort, the role of U.S. military forces during any foreign humanitarian assistance event is to rapidly respond with support to help mitigate human suffering and prevent further loss of life.
While evacuating the personnel out of affected areas is accomplished through a combined effort of military aircraft, commercial airlines and civilian pilots, a host of non-governmental organizations support the Government of the Philippines once the people arrive in Manila. The volunteers’ part in the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief effort, named Oplan Hatid, combines dozens of individual organizations into a cohesive unit providing support to the evacuees.
“Our purpose here is to just help the evacuated people with whatever they need,” said June Duenas, a volunteer with Oplan Hatid. “We provide all the basics that a family would need coming from an affected area and having nothing but the clothes on their backs.”
From the moment evacuees step off the aircraft, they are ushered to the evacuation center located at the end of the air base. Volunteers are organized to help with each part of the operation. Walking into the station, additional volunteers greet the evacuees and assist them into the waiting area.
The volunteers in the waiting area provide additional food, water, baby comfort items, medical treatment as needed and begin the administrative process which will eventually move the evacuees beyond the air field.
“Although we provide the evacuees with the basic things needed, our main purpose is to get them out of here and on their way,” said Triccia R. David, a volunteer with Oplan Hatid.
Completing the full process takes several hours, so organizations with other HA/DR support specialties donate phones, clothing, counseling support and more to provide an additional level of comfort and care.
“We have all of these organizations that are volunteering their time to assist us and donate things that these evacuees need,” said Len Kintanar, the volunteer officer in charge of Oplan Hatid. “Because of the amount of evacuees pouring into Manila, there are over 500 volunteers working here 24 hours a day.”
Once cleared medically and administratively processed, the evacuees are allowed to depart Villamor Air Base. Free transportation is provided by the Government of the Philippines to the evacuees to wherever they choose, whether it is a family member’s house, a free housing center provided by Oplan Hatid or other destinations.
Since 1990, the U.S. Government has responded to more than 40 disasters in the Philippines at the request of that country’s government, ranging from volcanic eruptions, drought, and population displacement. The Navy and Marine Corps team has a successful history of working with international relief organizations and host nations.