Three CofC Peace Corps Volunteers Survive Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in Philippines

College of Charleston Peace Corps Masters International graduate students Laura Mudge, Andrew Wynne and Tyler Hassig  survived one of the strongest Typhoons (we call them hurricanes) ever to hit land.  The three are part of an innovative Peace Corps program in which the students take advanced courses first at the College, and then pursue a specialized 27 month volunteer experience in their host country.  When they return to the United States they defend their international project thesis and they are awarded their master’s degree in Environmental Studies.  All three students were assigned to work with the new Marine Protected Area System being developed in the Philippines.  These new preserves have the potential to turn the tide on extreme over-fishing in the Southeast Asia region.   But now, not surprisingly, everything is on hold as the Philippines digs out of the worst storm to ever hit their country.

Laura’s village of Baybay City in the central Philippines was one of the worst hit areas.  The night of the storm she hunkered down in a brand new cinder block building in the midst of the hours; long wind and wave assault, only to look out her windows at sunrise to see the devastation.  Most of the city’s buildings, homes, trees and their critical fishing fleet were completely destroyed.  The loss of life and utter destruction she witnessed will never be forgotten.    After the storm the Peace Corps rushed a safety officer to her village and transported her by truck and boat to Ormoc city. From Ormoc, because of significant damage there as well, she was further evacuated to Manila where she is now assisting with relief efforts. See her blog at

Tyler’s fishing village of Carles on Panay Island suffered tremendous damage.  He was evacuated to Iloilo city to wait out the storm and now is assisting as a part of a medical relief team that was flown back into his home region.  See his recent e-mail below which tells the story (Tyler Hassing’s account of the Typhoon Yolanda).
Andrew’s fishing community of Bicol was not hit as hard but is still recovering and he is currently assisting in relief efforts for the harder hit islands.
The Masters of Environmental Studies graduate student organization (MESSA) is planning a fundraiser to help provide critical drinking water resources for the impacted areas of the Philippines.

Tyler Hassig’s Account of Typhoon Yolanda on Tuesday, November 12, 2013
I have just had my first chance in days to check my email, unfortunately I don’t have the opportunity to email everyone individually so I am sending a mass email, please forward to anyone in the CofC family. Thank you for sending your thoughts and prayer.  Currently five other volunteers and I remain consolidated in Iloilo city but it seems that within days we will be transported to Manila where some 30 displaced volunteers have been consolidated. I am fine, other volunteers have been through much more traumatic experiences but everyone is alive and well.

The provincial government office in Iloilo city has turned into an aid dispatching center; sending food, water, and first aid supplies to municipalities in the Iloilo province. The other volunteers and I have been helping to pack trucks with rice, canned sardines, noodles, and bottled water.  A few days ago I was able to join a small team of doctors on a mission to bring healthcare to the regions of Panay island that were most damaged from the storm, this included Carles.  As we drove north of the city the damage became progressively worse; rice paddies were flooded with several meters of water, forcing most people to make camp on the road. An hour north of the city the road became difficult to navigate with tons of downed trees and power lines.   By the time we reached Sara (a town about an hour south of Carles) entire mountain sides were bare and almost no structures were left standing. Giant trees were stripped of leaves, palm trees snapped half way up the trunk, homes were turned into piles of rubble; it looked like a giant bomb exploded.

Driving down the narrow road to Carles it was hard to imagine that a single storm could change the landscape so drastically. When I left town a few days ago Carles was rice paddies surrounded by lush tropical forest; it was small clusters of bamboo huts on the beach; it was beautiful.  I returned to a landscape of devastation; my bags of rice and first aid kits seemed strikingly inadequate.  When we arrived in Carles we first drove to the municipal building that was my office, the second story and part of the first had caved in with the remaining portion now turned into an emergency medical center. The previous health center in our town had lost its roof during the storm, and I am told seven women gave birth during the storm- while the building was shredded to pieces.  Across the street, our market and school had been leveled.  My home was among the only houses still standing in town (most likely because it was built of cinder block and not bamboo) and I was beyond relieved to find that my family was alive and uninjured.  We have not heard from the boarders who decided to ride out the storm with their families on the islands. One island off our coast reported 10 deaths alone. The bodies of 30 fishermen had washed ashore in a bay neighboring Carles; they were buried in a mass grave. In Tacloban five volunteers had to hike 3 hours through the city to get airlifted out by a helicopter, I am told the streets they walked down were lined with bodies. Other volunteers could not be located for days after the storm and were recently found by Peace Corps staff on rescue boats.

I dropped off food, water and a first aid kit, gathered some more of my clothes and had to leave Carles with the medical crew.  People in town asked me when aid was coming and if the US government was going to help.  I can only describe the look in people’s eyes as utter desperation.  A poor family who loses their home, their belongings, and their means of livelihood has little chance of survival without aid. I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to my community, they took care of me and now it is my time to help them.  With this feeling comes an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, the food packs we are making will maybe feed them for a day, the drinking water we are bringing will maybe not even last that long. Rebuilding is nearly impossible without materials, and cleaning up the destruction is challenging; with no place to put debris most people are just burning giant mounds of rubble.  There is no question that as days goes by the condition in Carles and other remote towns will deteriorate.  The storm destroyed nearly all fishing boats leaving people unable to catch fish, food is running out. The only water supplies are not safe to drink, causing many people to become sick. The latest projections say it will be two to four months before the region regains electricity. In the third world storms don’t just cause immediate destruction, their destruction is both immediate and lasting.

Many people have been asking how they can help and honestly I cannot give a good answer. I will try to find the best avenues for people who feel inclined to donate money. Let me also say that even a couple dollars US can feed a family here for several days. I will try to send more updates soon when I have more internet time.  I miss and love everyone.


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