Marton man’s Philippines aid mission

Luke Sumner, of Newton Drive, Blackpool, with donations of clothes for the Philippines. Below:

Luke Sumner, of Newton Drive, Blackpool, with donations of clothes for the Philippines. Below:

What was planned as a winter getaway with his brother became a heart-wrenching aid mission Luke Sumner will never forget.

It was meant to be a fortnight of backpacking with his brother James and sister-in-law Fran, around the Philippines, but instead the trio had to be smuggled into Coron in the Palawan province after Typhoon Haiyan struck last month.

The main airports and ferry links had closed, so the group paid a Filipino fisherman £300 to take them from El Nido to the disaster zone in his bamboo boat.

During the 14-hour journey they hit rough seas, their engine caught fire and they were left stranded.

“We thought we were going to die,” said Luke, 32.

“It was genuinely life threatening.”

Instead of clothes and supplies for themselves, the group carried with them suitcases of aid to give to the Filipinos who had lost everything in the storm.

Once Luke, James and Fran had made it to Coron, they met the governor of the town who took them in and showed them around the devastated parts of the island.

The group was led to the more remote houses which hadn’t been visited since the Typhoon ripped through the country last month.

Luke, of Newton Drive, Marton, said: “He pointed us down a path and told us there should be three houses down there with families.

“He said ‘I know them, they are close friends. I don’t want to find them dead’, so we went first to look for him.

“We literally spent two days like that, visiting homes where we didn’t know if we were going to find dead people.”

Luckily everyone was alive, but the typhoon had taken its toll. Those who still had houses could find no dry wood to make a fire, so had burned clothes in order to make heat.

“The majority of people that we found were naked,” Luke said.

“We brought them back to our van and physically dressed them.”

It’s an experience that will stay with Luke forever.

“It was horrible – just going into the unknown all the time, not knowing what we were going to find,” he said.

“It must have been horrendous for the people who live there.

“The typhoon hit at night, and the first thing to go was the electricity so it was pitch black as people’s roofs were being blown off and full-size trees were snapping in half.

“The people there were just waiting for a tree to fall on their homes and kill them.

“The Philippines is a third world country. The people there barely have tuppence to rub together and what they do have has now been ripped away from them – it’s devastating.

“We saw families, from one-year-old children to 90-year-olds wandering around completely naked hoping for someone to help them or just waiting to die.”

But thanks to Luke, James and Fran, the Filipinos were given clothes, aid and hope.

Luke, a cardiac nurse at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, said: “We definitely made a difference.

“We were the first people a lot of them saw since the Typhoon, and the relief on their faces brought me to tears.

“For them, our donations of T-shirts and flip flops could have been £1m. They were so excited and happy.”

Luke says it was hard to leave knowing they had barely touched the surface of people needing help.

He even felt guilty when he reached the capital city, Manila, where there is no evidence of the destruction just across the water.

He added: “We had two days there before we flew home and we decided to have a night out, but we felt so guilty about being able to spend money on beer that we didn’t bother.”

When Luke returned home, he discovered people had been giving generously to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in his absence.

He said: “I had 15 big boxes of aid which I will ship out to the governor of Coron.

“I am just in the process of trying to raise the £600 shipping cost. I’m so proud of what we have done. I’d absolutely love to go back maybe in a year’s time to see how the country has developed itself.”

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