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MPW employee in eye of storm on visit to Philippines

  • Thursday, December 26, 2013

Eddie Pineda, a Mount Pleasant Waterworks employee happened to be in the Philippines when the typhoon his last month. He stayed on to volunteer with Watermissions International to install three clean water dispensers. PHOTOS PROVIDED

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What was to be a visit to Eddie Pineda’s homeland of the Philippines turned into a volunteer mission he will never forget.

His arrival in Angeles City to visit his ailing father coincided with the typhoon that hit the country, devastating millions.

Typhoon Haiyan, known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, was an exceptionally powerful tropical cyclone that devastated portions of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, in early November 2013. It is the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, killing at least 5,759 people in that country alone. Haiyan is also the strongest storm recorded at landfall, and unofficially the fourth strongest typhoon ever recorded in terms of wind speed.

Pineda’s father passed away during that visit. He contacted his employer, Mount Pleasant Waterworks, for permission to stay on longer to oversee and attend his father’s burial.

With permission granted, he went about the rituals of burying a loved one. But he was also called to complete a mission while there more gratifying that he ever could have imagined.

The United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs quickly listed water and sanitation as the highest need for all relief.

Water Missions International, based in the Lowcountry, had already been deployed to the Philippines.

MPW, through its round it up program, supports the non-profit. Customers can voluntarily round up their monthly bills with the excess being donated to WMI.

General Manager Clay Duffie and MPW commissioners then employed Pineda to stay on in the Phillipines and work with the non-profit to install clean drinking water systems in various areas of the country.

While numerous inoculations were required to participate in such work, the only thing available was a Typhoid shot. Nonetheless, Pineda went to work with the group acting as a translator, a logistics coordinator and more.

Logistics were a huge issue, he said, with roads being blocked and damaged. There was no electricity, limited resources and heavy equipment that had to be transported.

The group conducted nine total community assessments in Bogo City, Cebu, and the following in Samar: Basey, Serum, Panagmunon, del Pilar, Loog, Pelit, Burgos, Marabut.

They installed three units with the capacity to serve 2,500 people. Also on hand was the American Red Cross which provided clean water systems in Basey and Marabut.

Simply walking through the debris-strewn streets was difficult, and many places had to be accessed by boat.

Getting to work

The workday was long, typically 4 a.m. - 11 p.m. Carrying round testing equipment and camp gear was a heavy task.

Finding an available fork-lift and pick-up truck took more than four hours. And then there were the stories: like the one from the man who said he could help find a fork-lift, but he would have to bring his son with him.

Why? They wondered. Because, the man said, he had lost his three daughters in the storm and his son was all he had left.

The people of the Philippines did not know what a storm surge was. Many evacuated to brick buildings such as an astro-dome. However, those buildings were situated by the waterfront an ultimately fatal decision.

As the process of installing the water tanks continued, the crew met many burdens. But they also met many gratified locals willing to help. They all pitched in to unload and hook up the systems. “The storm was devastating enough, Pineda said, but they had no homes, no water, no electricity and here they were with positive attitudes,” he said. Even their coconut trees and rice fields, their main crops, were destroyed.

Even worse, the diseases borne from contaminated water could be fatal, so they had to educate the locals about the new systems.

Pineda said that only 20 percent of the affected population could afford to buy bottled water before the storm. The price of bottled water doubled after the storm, leaving no one with the ability to afford it. But these clean water systems feature six dispensers and amidst what looked like a war zone, there were smiling faces filing up and carrying off containers of clean drinking water.

“How blessed we are in the U.S. I have a greater respect and appreciation for humanity,” he said.

Life is about sharing.”

New look at life

He said he quickly recognized the resiliency of the people and their positive attitude.

His partner in the mission, Andre Mergenthaler of Germany, was a very inspiring individual to work with.

“It was inspiring to see all the different countries and organizations come together with the common goal of providing aid.”

Pineda works in the water industry as a Process Control Foreman in the Mass Information Systems Department at MPW. But he has a great respect for water, life and the environment.

Brian Head, the information systems manager took over his day-to-day duties while Pineda was away because he along with MPW commissioners and supervisors understood the importance of the work Pineda and WMI was doing.

And for Pineda, he believes he was meant to be there. Ironically he had put off the trip to see his father because of obligations here at home.

“It was magical. I was there with my father when he took his last breath and for his burial and then on to help others in need.”

All MPW customers can donate to Water Missions International each month by enrolling in our Round Up Program. Their bill is simply rounded up to the next dollar and the extra change goes to Water Missions International. Enrolling online is easy: http://www.mountpleasantwaterworks.com/sign_up_for_round_up.cfm

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