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Dublin: 4 °C Monday 24 February, 2020
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"If tourists choose not to come then Malapascua will slowly go back into the dark ages"

Eight weeks on from Typhoon Haiyan, Irish dive-school owner David Joyce says holidaymakers shouldn’t be deterred from booking a trip to the Philippines…

DAVID JOYCE RUNS Evolution Diving  on the tiny island of Malapascua, part of Cebu Province, which was in the direct path of Typhoon Haiyan when the massive storm hit the Philippines at the start of November.

In the days and weeks that followed, David, along with other staff members at the resort, spearheaded the relief and rebuild effort on the island — raising thousands of euro to help those left homeless.

We checked in for an initial update from David the week after the storm hit. He said that Malapascau had been “completely cut off” in the wake of the typhoon. Even at that stage, however, the effort to get supplies to those most in need was already well under way.

In tandem with the effort to help the community, staff at Evolution have also been hard at work rebuilding the resort. Tourism is the main source of income on the island; around 80 per cent of its inhabitants rely on the sector for their income — either directly or indirectly.

TheJournal.ie has been back in contact with via email in the last few weeks. David took us through the stages of the initial response, and outlined his hopes for 2014 — and beyond. The rebuild — both in the resort and the wider community — has been continuing at an impressive pace.

As he puts it:

We went though the various phases of remorse but now its about determination not to be beaten down by this event.

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The tiny island is just 2.5km long [Google Maps]

PREPARATIONS

We were aware that the storm was going to be big and it was clearly tracking straight over Malapascua island, even from 5 days out.  As we are in the business of diving, weather is key so we are always consulting pertinent websites and have learned that they are pretty good at predicting major weather events.

Malapascua was hit by a relatively small storm a year before, but as the eye also passed over the island the wind directions changed very suddenly so quite a few boats were sunk.

This time people were much more cautious.  Of the hundreds of boats on the island — big and small — every one of them was either pulled high onto the beach or hidden in what was expected to be the safest bay. It turned out nothing was safe and huge multi-tonne boats on the beach were literally flipped over by the wind.

In the resort we boarded up windows with plywood, only to see it ripped right off.  Things were stored indoors — but again the storm ripped the roofing off several buildings, leaving all contents destroyed from the deluge and vast volume of sand what was being blown around.  In fact one of our newly painted boats had its entire livery sanded off so that it was again a blank hull.

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Damage to boats in the immediate aftermath of the storm [Image: Facebook/Evolution Diving]

THE INITIAL RESPONSE

As the storm passed everyone stayed in what they felt to be a safe place.  For many this proved inaccurate as whole structures tore apart. Somehow there were no fatalities, mainly due to the fact that it was daylight and everyone simply spent the time dodging the debris flying everywhere.

Most of our staff were absent to deal with their own homes and we had a core staff at the resort with our remaining guests.  Everyone stayed indoors until after. Once people came out, there was a sense of shock. The island was unrecognisable.

The first thing was to try and get temporary shelter. Evolution staff had five days off to get what shelter they could for their families. I was off the island for the storm and my house was not a good place to be during it.  The roof blew off and windows blew in — I had some people there trying to help, but they ended up spending several ours hiding in the bathroom.  With two young kids, it’s certainly lucky they were not there for that.

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Local houses in the immediate aftermath of the storm [Facebook/Evolution Diving]

THE AFTERMATH

As Malapascua has several foreign owned business, some of them quickly became focal points. Our isolated location means we tend to stock good quantities of food and water so staff were able to get these. I arrived back about 48 hours later with a boat load of relief goods — mainly water, tinned goods and rice. By day seven we already had several lorry-loads of building materials on the island, and that effort still underway today.

By the second week outside help started to appear — aid from the Red Cross and others arrived. It was generally enough food for a family for three days so very short term. Eventually medical aid came. No one was seriously injured in the storm, but many people had wounds from nails and corrugated sheets after the storm so tetanus was in demand.

As donations began to grown the main recipients came together to co ordinate and now work together on ‘Rebuild Malapascua’  (www.rebuildmalapascua.com).

Building supplies were hard to get in the first month after the storm, but a steady supply is now coming and homes are being completed every week. In fact we have already built 100 homes — and a lot of that has come from Irish donors.

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One of the homes rebuilt with the help of ‘Rebuild Malapascua’ [Facebook/Evolution Diving]

RESPONDING & REBUILDING

Our main target, and what I believe our donors wanted most, was to rebuild the homes of the local people.  Homes are simple on the island, usually plywood, concrete and metal roofing.  This has made it somewhat easier for us to achieve as there are enough local carpenters to turn materials into a simple home in about a week.

Both the primary and secondary schools were badly damaged, so we are also involved in a rebuild of the elementary school which is currently operating a half schedule and mainly outdoors.  We are also looking at establishing one of the first proper clinics on the island.

The communities are working with us to get things back on track but for sure they need assistance. People have limited means and income here, so solutions are immediate, simple and final.  Most people’s reaction is to find debris roofing and damaged wood and erect a temporary shelter and that’s about it.

Assistance should really be from the Government or NGOs, but we are here so are able to work with them on getting better homes and considering more long term projects such as getting proper sanitation into some areas and maintaining a permanent medical clinic on the island.

We’ve basically cut out the local political structure and are working directly with the people themselves — the fewer committees the better!

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Another home/store rebuilt with the ‘Rebuild’ funds [Facebook/Evolution Diving]

HOLIDAYMAKERS

We had a few guests in the resort during the storm — they mainly holed up in our rooms as no one could step outside.

After the storm it took 48 hours before a boat could get some off the island to make flights.  We had two steely Scots who had just arrived with us and they were damned if they were leaving so they stayed for a further ten days and helped us clear up, even though we had no electricity and ate nothing but noodles and sardines. They plan to come back next year as they enjoyed it so much this time.

However — we have had a massive amount of cancellations.  People are afraid, based on the media coverage. The fact is that in my area things are getting back to normal, and we are open for business.  We have had a steady stream of intrepid customers coming through over the last two weeks and more, and they are pleasantly surprised by the air of optimism and energy.

This is not a miserable place.  People just want to get back to work, earn some income and do their jobs.  Of course customers are being very patient, everything is still being fixed and it will still be a while before we operate as smoothly as before but maybe that is part of the current charm.

Ultimately we are offering the same product as before – great diving, food and accommodation on a warm and hospitable tropical island.  It just has the added caché now of being a disaster zone!

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The resort’s ‘Craic House’ bar & restaurant, around a week after the storm hit [via Facebook]

PUBLICITY

We went though various phases on remorse but now its about determination not to be beaten down by this event. We are doing what we can to get things back to what they were. We have achieved a massive amount already and in early January our completely rebuilt restaurant should open.

What is harder to undo is the month of the worst publicity imaginable. We are set to have a record number of visitors this year but we have probably seen it go back five years or more in terms of numbers.

This is difficult in terms of investment or effort, but that’s the way it is.  It has been draining — an emotional roller-coaster really, and between us we have had some very low moments. But on Malapascua we are lucky —nobody died, so you remember that and work back up from there.

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Almost there — Craic House 2.0 [Evolution Diving/Facebook]

THE FUTURE

The Philippines is very dependent on tourism and it employs a huge number of people. In remote areas such as Malapascua it is the only source of meaningful income with approximately 80 per cent of the island directly or indirectly relying on tourist income. If tourists choose not to come then Malapascua will slowly go back into the dark ages.

For example we have a private power company selling electricity here, and its main customers are resorts. If resorts start to close due to no customers then the company will withdraw and the island will go back in time and be without electricity again — there are so many things interconnected in this way.

We are fighting to keep an income for the 34 employees we have, and they understand that things have changed but hopefully not for long. The Philippines is not effected by mass commercial tourism.  It’s still a place of smaller, independent businesses offering a great, personalised experience — businesses are open and the island remains magical as does the region. People should certainly consider booking as this year there will be less tourists — so what a great time to visit!

Ireland and The Philippines have an amazing parallel history of colonialism, Catholicism and emigration, and have a lot in common. The people are friendly and charming and very resilient — so come and see for yourself…

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The staff at ‘Evolution’ return from a clean-up operation at the dive sites [via Facebook]
Find out more about Rebuild Malapascau at their website >

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