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Helston ShelterBox worker Paul Crudgington on front line as typhoon hit

By West Briton  |  Posted: November 26, 2013

  • Paul Crudgington - Shelterbox. 14/11/2013. Paul Crudgington of Shelterbox who has just returned from the Philippines. Picture by Keith Richards. TRKR20131114A-004_C

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WHEN Paul Crudgington went out to the Philippines with a disaster relief charity he had no idea one of the biggest typhoons on record would shortly be bearing down on him.

It was the 61-year-old's first assignment with Helston-based ShelterBox.

"We were staying at a place called the Water Paradise Resort – which sounds like paradise, but it wasn't," he said.

"We knew the typhoon was coming and preparing yourself is all you can do."

Mr Crudgington, a former Navy search and rescue pilot from RNAS Culdrose from Traboe, near St Keverne, had been sent to co-ordinate ShelterBox's relief effort after a devastating earthquake in the Philippines last month.

Then the team began to receive reports that the country faced a powerful storm with winds reaching up to 125mph.

Typhoon Haiyan caused widespread devastation, destroying buildings, felling tress and blocking roads.

It is now thought nearly 4,000 people were killed and more than 1,000 are still missing.

For Mr Crudgington and the other ShelterBox members, there was nothing they could do but batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst.

He was staying in the suburbs of the city of Tagbilaran on the Philippine island of Bohol.

He said: "We knew how bad it was going to be. Typhoons are a regular feature of the weather out there. We'd had a typhoon blow through four days previously.

"It was a strange location for a resort, in the middle of suburbia. All the tourists had been frightened off by the earthquake.

"When we knew the typhoon was coming, we thought we would be well protected. We were in daily contact with ShelterBox headquarters.

"We didn't have any diplomatic contact and we didn't get to speak to our families that often."

He said the frequent earthquakes destroy any significant buildings that could give protection from the typhoons.

"The Philippines is on the Pacific rim so earthquakes are a regular feature," he added.

"It means there's a shortage of strong buildings and they are mostly light timber, single-storey structures.

"They are very vulnerable to the typhoons. The only substantial buildings are the banks – and they were firmly locked.

"The locals just get on with life. They don't really have any choice.

"The typhoon came in from the east so we, on the south west, were on the safer side of the island.

"We still had 24 hours of very heavy gales, rain and localised flooding.

"There was quite a bit of damage elsewhere on Bohol. We got very wet and very windy. There were a few corrugated tin roofs blown off and a few injuries.

"One of the biggest hazards is the storm surge from the sea. It's almost like a tsunami and there's nothing you can do. There is no high ground in these places.

"We lost all power so we had no radio or TV. We really didn't know what was happening elsewhere in the country.

"Afterwards, we started to hear what had happened in other parts of the Philippines from people back in the UK."

The roads to the north of the island were impassable and Mr Crudgington and the other team members were unable to reach the more severely hit areas at first.

They also had to make sure that the 350 tents the charity had given out from the earthquake were still standing.

The people staying in them while waiting to rebuild their homes after the earthquake had been told to take the tent poles down ahead of the typhoon.

After a few days, Mr Crudgington had to return to the UK while other ShelterBox teams arrived to take over.

He added: "There's such a lot of work to do. You do your best to help the people and you can't help feeling you could do more if you only had more time.

"It's going to have to be a massive operation to get things back up and running again."

Mr Crudgington hopes to return in December.

ShelterBox now has three teams in the country, including two in the region of Cebu, which was one of the worst-hit areas.

More boxes with emergency supplies are due to arrive this week.

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