Endless torment for Philippine typhoon widow

Endless torment for Philippine typhoon widow
Jennifer Purga checks on her husband and pumps air into his lungs in a Tacloban hospital, after a leg amputation led to an infection.

SAN AGUSTIN, Philippines - Jennifer Pulga endured the depths of helplessness as she pumped the last air her husband would breathe into his typhoon-battered body, and her life since has felt barely any more in control.

A coconut tree crashed through the thatched roof of the Pulga's tiny home in an isolated farming village of the central Philippines during Super Typhoon Haiyan in November, crushing Richard and igniting a torturous passage to death.

With no vehicle to evacuate the farmer and roads in the area initially unpassable due to typhoon debris, it took his wife a week to get him to the nearest major hospital 60 kilometres (30 miles) away.

But that hospital, in the ruined city of Tacloban, was overwhelmed and medics could do little for Richard other than amputate one leg and give Jennifer a pump to manually inflate his lungs.

Jennifer kept her husband alive for seven hours, the sound of the handheld ventilator like a mournful fog horn amid a sea of agony as other patients died from injuries that doctors said could have been treated if there was electricity and medicines.

"I was praying and hoping that he would live. I was praying that even if he is disabled, that's okay, as long as he lives, that's all I want," Jennifer, 28, told AFP on a recent visit to see how she was coping.

Poverty deepens grief for young mother

Compounding the grief of losing her husband of seven years, Jennifer was left destitute with a four-month-old daughter, Irish, and a six-year-old son, RJ.

Haiyan, which was one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, is believed to have killed about 8,000 people, mostly in farming and fishing communities that were already among the poorest in the Philippines.

The Pulga family comes from one of the most impoverished of those farming villages, in a scenic but unruly part of Leyte province known as a haven for communist guerrillas and other armed bandits.

The Pulgas lived in a dirt-floor hut made of bamboo, coconut wood and palm thatch, tending 10 hectares (24 acres) of coconut tree plantations and a one-hectare rice field left to them by Richard's deceased father.

Richard, who died aged 27, would earn some extra money giving rides on his motorcycle along a rocky track to people in his and neighbouring villages.

The farm and Richard's motorcycle riding earned them about 3,000 pesos (S$290) a month, just enough to survive when supplemented by vegetables they grew for themselves and pigs raised for food.

Like thousands of other farmers in the region, the family's main source of income was lost when Haiyan destroyed most of their coconut trees, which take more than five years from planting to bear fruit.

"I don't have anything now, Richard was our breadwinner," said Jennifer, whose only previous paid work was as a domestic helper in the nation's capital, Manila, when she was a teenager.

The young widow and her two children went to live with Richard's 68-year-old mother, Guadalupe, in a neighbouring village.

The in-law's two-storey concrete house had its roof partially ripped off during the typhoon and has still not been repaired, although it provides adequate shelter and RJ can attend the local school for free.

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