What do the efforts of Far East Broadcasting Co.’s First Response Radio team look like on the ground? We talked to team leader Maggie Yrasuegui about the devastation she sees around her and what it takes to get an emergency radio broadcast running in a disaster zone.
What is the present situation that you’re experiencing in Tacloban?
Maggie: I wish I could say that things are improving a lot, but they haven’t yet, because the roads are still impassable. You have to give the government credit, because they’re trying their best to move debris and clear the debris so that relief organizations and relief workers can go to the outskirts of the city. The airport is still on and off, closed or sometimes open to commercial flights. The army is taking full control of the airport, meaning that we’ve seen a lot of helicopters and planes coming in and out 24 hours a day. They’re bringing the stuff that the people of Tacloban need: food, water, hygiene kits, and medicines.
You’ve been broadcasting for a couple of days already. I hear that you were able to connect with the city government there through the city administrator.
Maggie: We accidentally went up to what used to be the city hall and we know that it was not an accident … that God sent him [the administrator] here. He saw what our situation was. Imagine a penthouse, it’s supposed to be really beautiful, but the roof is now gone. It had been raining on and off, and pouring when it rained, so it was ankle-deep water inside our studios. He came and he saw what the situation was, and he was actually so happy to see us. He and the mayor were just discussing at that time that they needed somebody who can send out information to the community from the government, from the NGOs, from the humanitarian organizations … but there was no way of communicating vital and critical and information to the affected community. So when he saw us, he was grateful. But then I told him, “Sir, we would love to help, that’s why we are here, unfortunately we cannot broadcast for long, because we are running low on fuel. He said, “We need you, so let’s do an exchange deal: continue what you are doing, we will provide the gasoline.”
Looking out from Tacloban City Hall, FEBC’s First Response broadcast location.
Last Friday, you were broadcasting still out of the penthouse where everything was getting wet. Are you in a better place at this time?
Maggie: We are in a much better place. We have roofs above our head, and that’s the main thing. It’s still leaking, but not as much, so we can continue doing broadcasts without endangering the equipment.
How far does the broadcast of First Response reach in that particular area of Tacloban?
Maggie: We can cover a 10 kilometer [6.2 miles] radius clearly. We can even reach up to 12 km [7.45 miles], but it will be cutting off. For a clear signal, 10 kilometers, which is really a big reach already.
Right now, being one of two broadcast networks that’s broadcasting means that every single message that you can send out, no matter how small that voice is, people will be listening to you.
Maggie: We have been interviewing the local authorities. The chief of the fire brigade came to our studio. I cannot speak their dialect but I can understand them perfectly, because they’re language is similar to one that I’m familiar with. So I asked them questions in my dialect and asked them to answer me in theirs. So we’ve gotten really positive comments from affected communities because it makes them feel that the very people whom they are looking up to, to help them, their local government … they are all speaking their own language, so they can understand them better.
Maggie Yrasuegui, FEBC First Responder in Tacloban City
How are you able to encourage the listeners right now? For those who are listening to you over their cell phones or over their transistor radios?
Maggie: We always make it a point to share positive information and encouraging information from the government and from the people as well. Every interview, they give vital information, but we also use voice clips to encourage their fellow Taclobaners to just hold on, to believe in God, keep the faith, and that they are going to move forward as a family.
What are the current needs and how can people pray for you?
Maggie: For the roads to be cleared ASAP. So that the goods at the airport can be delivered. We still need food. The affected communities need shelter. I’m looking at storm clouds again right now, so they need shelter ASAP. Because of the blocked roads, the help can’t get through, but slowly but surely, I am quite positive in the coming days that it will get better. Pray for the team because it’s been so taxing and emotionally draining as well. Pray for the people of Tacloban, that they will hold on to what little they have left. I cannot fully describe the devastation that I can see in front of me and around me. It’s not just fallen trees. It’s not just houses that are destroyed. But people walk aimlessly. You try to tell them something and they look back at you with blank stares because it is really hard for them emotionally. But we are still at the emergency phase, so it is still food, shelter, and clothing that are being given now. Pray for the broadcast, the gasoline and oil, and for the strength of the team.
If you want to help the efforts of Maggie and the rest of the FEBC team, we promise that 100 percent of your donation will reach the Philippines by wire transfer as soon as humanly possible. Your money will go toward keeping the broadcasts about emergency relief and the hope offered in Jesus Christ going.