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SHAKE AND BLOW
Philippine couple find love, hope among typhoon misery
By Imelda MAGBUTAY
Tacloban, Philippines (AFP) Nov 7, 2015


Philippines marks second anniversary of devastating Typhoon Haiyan
Tacloban, Philippines (AFP) Nov 8, 2015 - The Philippines Sunday marked the second anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan - with the bodies of possible victims of the disaster which left at least 7,350 people dead or missing still being uncovered.

Thousands of residents marked the two-year milestone in the city of Tacloban, which was devastated by the huge storm, as memorials were unveiled and masses held.

On Saturday authorities confirmed they found six new bodies.

The unidentified skeletal remains were found by a man scavenging for wood in the outskirts of the city, according to Tacloban fire chief Charlie Herson.

"These are possible victims of the typhoon. They were buried by debris, in piles of wood," he told AFP.

Haiyan, the strongest typhoon ever recorded to hit land, smashed into the central Philippines on November 8, 2013. The once-thriving city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte suffered the worst damage with hundreds of houses washed away by a storm surge.

To mark the tragedy Sunday, special memorials were unveiled and Roman Catholic masses were said for the victims, including the more than 2,400 mostly-unidentified bodies buried in a mass grave in Tacloban.

Thousands of Tacloban residents are still living in makeshift temporary homes as questions are raised about the speed of reconstruction.

President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda said there would "always be discussions" on the speed of reconstruction, adding: "We understand such sentiments."

But he added despite local critics, foreign agencies, including the United Nations, had said the Philippines was rebuilding faster than other developing countries struck by comparable natural disasters.

"What befell us was massive and we are continuing to provide assistance... always following our principle, to build back better," he said.

However, local congressman, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, said "this is still not yet the old Tacloban. This is still not the old Leyte. It will still be a long time before things get back to normal."

Some Tacloban residents are still clinging to hope their missing loved ones are still alive.

Single mother Angelina Marquez, 17, said she hoped Remegildo, the father of her child, would reappear two years after he went missing during the storm.

"I still believe that he may have been washed away to a different place and the time will come, like in the movies, when he will come back to me," she said.

After losing her husband and six children to the fury of Typhoon Haiyan, Juvelyn Luana has found fresh hope among the misery and crushing poverty as she rebuilds her life with a new family.

Two years after the monster storm devastated the coastal city of Tacloban, killing thousands, Luana has a new partner, a new son and a shack far from the deadly shore.

"Having a husband and a baby gave my life direction," the 32-year-old told AFP as she scooped water into four grey drums to take to their brick and tin shanty that lacks tap water and electricity.

She fetches water from a distant swamp at night because her partner Joel Aradana, also widowed by Haiyan, works during the day and there is no one else to look after their five-month-old baby Jacob.

Built just 500 metres (yards) from a landfill, the shanty bakes under the tropical sun by day and the stench is overpowering.

"It smells like raw fish mixed with rotten food. I'm worried that my baby might get sick," Luana told AFP during one recent humid evening.

A few plastic chairs, a gas stove and a tiny solar-powered television set that works only in daytime are the sum of the couple's possessions.

Unable to afford even a bed, they sleep on a straw mat laid out on the floor.

Pictures of their former spouses and children who perished in the storm hang from the wall, beside a picture of the new couple being interviewed on local television that featured their unconventional love story.

Outside, children played noisily with their pet dogs and elderly women traded gossip on their doorways.

- 'Life is very difficult' -

But the couple can consider themselves among the lucky ones.

They were among the first 929 families to get new homes from the government, which is still struggling to shelter more than a million people displaced by the deadliest known typhoon to have struck the Philippines.

Haiyan smashed already impoverished fishing and farming communities in the central islands on November 8, 2013, leaving 7,350 people dead or missing.

A 150-billion-peso ($3.2-billion) government plan to build 205,128 new homes by 2017 in devastated areas, along with roads, bridges and classrooms has crawled under the weight of a cumbersome bureaucracy.

Thousands of the less fortunate survivors still live in cramped palm-thatch and wooden temporary shelters.

Though opportunities are scarce, Luana's partner gets occasional carpentry work that pays 350 pesos ($7) a day.

"We are OK, rebuilding our lives slowly," she said.

"One look at Jacob every night and all my body aches disappear."

"But life here is very difficult."

The couple hopes to marry as soon as Aradana secures a death certificate for his wife, whose body was among hundreds that have not been found.

Luana said she gets no sleep at night fanning her son while Aradana rests his aching body after long hours at work.

Like many other Haiyan survivors, Luana said aid has not come fast enough.

A promised government loan she had been counting on to start a small business selling rice from her home has not been given.

A third of Aradana's pay is spent on the 18-kilometre (11-mile) commute to the city where he works, leaving them with barely enough to buy rice and sardines.

"I want to help my husband. He doesn't always have construction jobs so we need a steady source of income," said Luana, a high school graduate, who used to give manicures and massages to her neighbours.

"I also want to buy a television set. My neighbours are crazy about soap operas but I want to know when the next typhoon is coming so I can prepare."

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