Summer Cottage Storm
Karttula, Finland 2002
I was staying with my elderly parents at our summer cottage, where I had spent my childhood, when a storm hit. We had just finished bathing in the sauna when what looked like a thunderstorm loomed behind the lake. We did the usual things: fasten the boat and protect the patio furniture and geraniums. This was all for naught, as we found the boat tipped over in a different place, and the plants and furniture had been tossed every which way… There was constant lightning and the noise was deafening, booms and roaring, with large trees crashing all around us, torn whole out of the ground. Eventually, we could not see the outside anymore from all the torrential rain, fallen trees and branches that had slammed against the window. My father stayed in the sauna while mother and I hid behind the fireplace, which I imagined to be the safest place if we lost the roof.
It felt like a long time, but in reality, the worst was over in about ten minutes. Fallen and splintered trees were sticking up everywhere, full of leaves and needles; I could smell the freshly split soil and wood. It was oddly quiet.
There were many stories of survival and no loss of life. No one had ever experienced anything as powerful as that storm. Neighbours near and far went around the shores and made sure everyone was safe and had food and drinking water. The damage was repaired, new trees were planted, and the landscape has slowly taken a new shape. We recall the storm less and less, but on the name day of Unto we remember it and reflect on the time before and after Unto.
-Ritva, summer cottage resident in Karttula
Tacloban, Philippines, 2013
Access to information is a basic need for people. Radio broadcasts can be used to give people information about where to find help, water and food. After Super Typhoon Haiyan, we erected an emergency radio station in six days. First, we waited for three days to receive local status reports. No one knew what was going on in the city. The secretary of the interior said that all lines of communication were down, and that there was no way to get information to the people. From that moment, it took two days for us to arrive and three days to start broadcasting.
Our emergency radio station fits in a few suitcases. We also bring a box full of radio sets for distribution. We always bring everything we need in case the infrastructure has been destroyed. We broadcast information and also listen to the public. In Tacloban, we broadcast this message: “Hello, we are on the third floor of the city hall. You’re welcome to visit us.” We kept the door open, and anyone could come in to share their story with us or just to talk. We also operated a text message service. We asked people what they were worried or curious about. Our teams also headed out with recorders to bring back the people’s questions and stories to share on the radio.
Radio can be a friend to people – someone to talk with, someone you can laugh and enjoy yourself with again. In many ways, our radio team helped life return to normal in that community. After the typhoon, our partner organisation produced catchy songs for the national radio service that explain how to treat water to make it safe to drink.
-Mike, emergency radio coordinator
Nhamatanda, Mozambique, 2018
I worked as a relief technician in Nhamatanda in Mozambique where Cyclone Idai had destroyed the local hospital. Our first task was to build a cholera clinic, because the storm had polluted wells and there was an imminent threat of a cholera epidemic. As we waited for items to be delivered, we walked around the hospital’s premises to look for things to repair. We found a children’s playground at the edge of the hospital area; nothing was left except for a broken, rusted carousel and the frame of a swing set. With a couple of locals, we decided to fix the swings, as we had extra time on our hands and our stores had pieces of board, rope and plastic pipes. Curious eyes watched us work from behind the hospital’s wall.
When we returned to the hospital at half past six the next morning, we could hear children laughing from around the corner. They had climbed over the hospital’s wall to try the swings. Hearing those children laugh has been the most exhilarating reward in all my time as a relief worker. Life had not returned to normal in the area and many challenges remained, but a swing set was enough to bring laughter and joy to the neighbourhood’s children. The swings were used every day while we were there, and I hope for a long time afterwards. Also, children were not the only ones who we saw on the swings!
-Maria, relief worker
Kachchh, India 1998
Various natural disasters are common in the countryside of West India where I am from. Clay lamps are used for light when the power goes out. They work by dipping a cotton string in clarified butter and lighting it on a clay stand. Every home has butter, as many people raise cattle. The lamp tradition goes back a thousand years.
I was nine years old when the first hurricane of my life hit in 1998. It was a calm evening, but my father and grandfather were listening to talk about a potential cyclone on the radio. Us kids were oblivious to what a cyclone was, so we simply listened and played. It was a normal evening. We ate and went to bed. We woke up to loud noises in the small hours. When lightning lit the scene, I could see the trees moving from side to side, some of them breaking apart and disappearing up into the sky. It was raining heavily, and the hard wind pushed water into our house, because a corner or part of the roof had broken. My father ran out to untie the animals, and, for some reason, I followed him. When I tried to make it back inside, I could not take a single step, because the wind was so strong and the ground was so slippery from the rain. My only resort was to grab a curry tree hand and foot, ankles around the trunk, so the wind would not take me! Luckily, my father spotted me and came to help, and together we made it back inside.
It was my first experience of the great natural forces. Many cyclones have happened since then, and there was a big earthquake in the region in 2001. I have worked on disaster preparedness ever since.
-Shyam, disaster preparedness community specialist
Biliran island, Philippines, 2018
The storms and downpours had caused massive mudslides on the island. Entire villages had been swept away and roads collapsed. The emergency response team that I was part of delivered aid to the affected population, such as tools for rebuilding homes, mosquito nets, water filters, and solar-powered lamps. The solar-powered lamps are specifically designed for post-disaster relief work. They are easy to use, give good light, and the newest model can even charge phones.
When I have interviewed people after disasters, many have commented that the lamp was one of the most important items they received. Light brings safety. When the power is out after a disaster, the light makes it possible to for example cook and work, and for children to do their homework.
-Kristjana, recovery researcher and emergency response team member