Jeff Subra of Schroon Lake, a registered nurse, went to the Philippines as part of relief team sent by the Christian Medical & Dental Association. The Bristol, Tenn.-based group has rotated teams in-and-out of the Philippines every two weeks since the disaster hit Nov. 8, killing more than 6,000 people and leveling entire communities.
Jeff Subra grew up in Iowa, so he’s seen the damage left behind by tornadoes. That didn’t prepare him for what he saw following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
“I’ve seen the devastation caused by tornadoes,” the Schroon Lake man said. “But this was unbelievable. Miles and miles of total destruction.”
Subra, a registered nurse, went to the Philippines as part of relief team sent by the Christian Medical & Dental Association. The Bristol, Tenn.-based group has rotated teams in-and-out of the Philippines every two weeks since the disaster hit Nov. 8, killing more than 6,000 people and leveling entire communities.
Subra, a former Moses-Ludington Hospital nurse in Ticonderoga, was part of a seven-member team that provided health care to residents of the Tocloban area, which is located on the Philippine island of Leyte.
“Arriving in Manila you would never know there had been a typhoon,” Subra said. “Once we got to Tacloban our eyes were wide open. The roads were lined with piles of rubbish and trash as they tried to clean up. Buildings were completely destroyed.”
Typhoon Haiyan was 300 miles across when it struck the Philippines, one of the most intense tropical storms to ever make landfall anywhere in the world. It brought torrential rain, sustained winds of over 195 mph and a storm surge of up to 30 feet that devastated coastal areas.
There are millions of people who have been affected, including hundreds of thousands who have been forced from their homes. Those who survived needed health care, emergency shelter, clean water and food.
Based in Tocloban, Subra and his Christian Medical & Dental Association team visited nearby villages each day for two weeks in December. They worked with the World Health Organization and Salvation Army.
“We heard a lot of terrible stories,” Subra said. “Entire families lost. Children without parents. It was awful. People were crowded into whatever shelter they could find, 13-14 people living in one room.”
One child caught Subra’s attention.
“One day two older ladies brought in a little girl who had lost her entire family,” he said. “I wasn’t prepared for that. It really tugged at my heart.”
On the flight home Christmas Day, Subra decided he had to help that girl. He is now working with the Salvation Army to help support her.
During their time in the Philippines Subra and his team treated upwards to 100 people a day.
“There were wounds and injuries, but a lot of our work was giving encouragement,” he said. “We wanted to help people with their feelings of hopelessness and depression. We did whatever we could to help. I think they (Filipinos) were very appreciative.”
Subra had been on three medical missions before his Philippine trip. He went to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people and has been to Honduras twice.
The Philippine mission was different, he said.
“There was tremendous devastation and loss, but people were smiling,” Subra said. “Resilient is the word that describes the Philippine people. They weren’t sitting around waiting for help, they were picking up debris and rebuilding where they could.
“Every day you could see a little more progress,” he said. “The people were sad, but positive about the future. You could see life returning.”
When Subra learned of the typhoon he immediately knew he would be part of the international health response.
“When something like that happens there’s a window of opportunity,” he said. “I was in a situation where I could go. It was really a question of when, not if.”
His first impulse was to go immediately, but he waited until after Thanksgiving to meet family obligations.
“My family is very supportive, but my wife did want us all together for Thanksgiving,” Subra said.
Subra plans on another medical mission in March, This one will be a family affair. Joining Subra on the trip will be his wife, Cherie, and daughter Alexis.