Anna is a reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Tauranga charity founder describes surviving Typhoon Nina

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050117ACW02bopDAMAGE: On of the Ruel Foundation orphanage children helping with the clean-up. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
050117ACW02bopDAMAGE: On of the Ruel Foundation orphanage children helping with the clean-up. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

A Tauranga woman was woken by a sound like a "screaming freight train" and wasted no time rushing across the road to comfort an orphanage full of frightened children as Typhoon Nina tore through the Philippines

"At 1am, I was woken up with a roar of a typhoon. It sounds like a screaming freight train," said Pauline Curtis-Smith who has been living in Calapan (about 96km from Manila) for more than a decade after she set up children's charity the Ruel Foundation.

"We were being hit by Typhoon Nina."

Pauline Curtis-Smith (Left) had been living in Calapan (about 60 miles from Manila) for over a decade after she set up Ruel Foundation. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Pauline Curtis-Smith (Left) had been living in Calapan (about 60 miles from Manila) for over a decade after she set up Ruel Foundation. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

The typhoon struck the orphanage in the early hours of Boxing Day.

Mrs Curtis-Smith lived across the road from the Ruel Foundation orphanage that housed 38 orphaned and abandoned children from birth through to 10 years of age.

"I knew I had to get to them, they would be so scared.

"When I arrived there it was chaos. All the babies were crying because they sensed something was wrong."

Staff were meant to arrive at 6am but could not get to work because of trees blocking roads. Public transport was also forced to a standstill.

However, Mrs Curtis-Smith needed help at the orphanage so decided to brave the streets.

"At first I thought 'yahoo this isn't going to take long', as there were no cars on the road. I picked up one of my staff then realised why there was no vehicles on the road.

When I arrived there it was chaos. All the babies were crying because they sensed something was wrong.

"Power poles were down and strung across the road and fallen trees had to be avoided.

"Suddenly a huge tree had crashed down right in front of me. As I was driving back a power line got hooked in my roof rack - luckily for me it released when I reversed."

The orphanage was equipped with emergency food and water, and the typhoon blew over 12 hours later.

"But so much damage in just a few hours. All our trees were down, our floors flooded with water and mud and all our shade cloths and awnings destroyed."

Her house was totally flooded on both levels.

"Books ruined, clothing soaked, shoes floating around the floor."

She said she was grateful for Bay of Plenty supporters who had helped raise funds for a generator for the orphanage.

"It would have been an impossible situation without it."

Children from the Ruel Foundation's Romblon rescue centre for child victims of abuse, incest and abandonment had also come to Calapan for Christmas, which Mrs Curtis-Smith said was fortunate because there was no generator in the Romblon centre.

Despite the damage, people were still in good spirits.

"Ruel was much better off than many people. Homes were lost, roofs ripped off, shops ruined, goods destroyed and no power anywhere. The locals are amazing, they all help each other.

"Our clean-up is almost done, even the toddlers are helping."

She said she was grateful the orphanage building was intact and no-one there was injured.

Around the country the typhoon killed at least six people and caused 380,000 people to abandon their Christmas celebrations instead to seek emergency shelters. In 2010 the Ruel Foundation sustained flooding during Typhoon Hagupit, where 21 people around the country were known to have died.

The Ruel Foundation

A Christian children's charity organisation formed in 2000 to provide free medical aid to children living in remote areas in developing nations.

The head office is in Tauranga. Ruel is a Bay of Plenty pioneered and supported project.

For more information go to: the Ruel Foundation website

To make donations:
Ruel Foundation
ANZ - 06 0491 0160788 00
Swift Code: ANZBNZ 22

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