TACLOBAN CITY: Since her mother, father and three siblings were swept away by a tsunami-like wave that engulfed Tacloban, Nica Cabutin has been learning to live as an orphan, one of many created by the super typhoon.
She was found clutching wreckage after one of the most powerful storms ever recorded whipped up a huge surge that brought the ocean ashore, leaving the city in ruins and thousands of people dead.
Nica’s house and entire family were, in her own words, “brought away by the sea”, said Carmela Bastes, director of the Shelter for Abused Women and Children, a refuge for rape victims and those afflicted by violence, where the orphan now lives.
The young girl is shy about her lopsided hair, which was cut short so the two large gashes on the side of her head could be treated.
“She tells us she’s in first grade and we also estimate she’s eight,” said Bastes, whose staff tracked the girl’s family to what had been the Alimasag neighborhood of the devastated city.
Survivors there told officials that nothing has been seen of her parents or siblings since Yolanda struck on November 8.
They are presumed to be five of the more than 4,400 people the United Nations says have died, while Philippine authorities put the toll at just under 4,000.
Nica was one of the first children from Tacloban to be placed in government care after losing parents to the typhoon, said Liliosa Baltazar, director of the city’s social welfare department. But, she adds, she is not expected to be the last.
April Sumaylo from Save the Children in the Philippines says the charity believes around three million children have been affected in some way by the typhoon.
“We have talked to children who have lost their parents,” she said.
“We have seen some children who said they are the ones scavenging for food and water. It’s obviously very distressing for them.”
Nica lives on the ground floor of the women’s shelter. Its roof was blown off in the storm and, as is the case in much of Tacloban, there is no power or water.
Under normal circumstances, she might have been placed in one of the city’s two main orphanages, one run by Catholic nuns and the other by non-governmental group SOS.
But they too were badly damaged by the storm surges and ferocious winds .
When Nica first arrived at the shelter she would cry all the time, said Bastes, but now she is more used to being there and plays with the other children.
Despite all she has gone through, Nica is bearing up well, said Bastes, perhaps too young to understand the magnitude of the horror that has befallen her.