Thousands of survivors of Typhoon Haiyan erupted into wild cheers on Sunday to celebrate the victory of Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, bringing back laughter and revelry briefly to a devastated central Philippines region.
Pacquiao’s triumph over American Brandon Rios in Macau served as a rallying point for many still-traumatised survivors, many of whom lost loved ones and their homes to the November 8 typhoon, which killed more than 5200 people and left 1600 others missing. Haiyan also damaged or destroyed one million homes, displacing in excess of three million people.
Many jumped repeatedly in joy as they cheered on Pacquiao, who won by unanimous decision to take the WBO international welterweight title.
“I was so happy and I wanted to cry, but there were too many people,” said street sweeper Ardel Nebasa, who lost his home in tsunami-like storm surges that ravaged the city of Tacloban.
“It would have felt like another storm has hit if he lost,” said Nebasa, who watched the match with his son and thousands of other people on a TV screen set up in a public plaza in Tacloban.
Another survivor waved a cardboard placard that read: “We’re for Pacquiao, God bless, Tacloban will rise again”.
A damaged house in the city of more than 200,000 people displayed a painted image of the boxing superstar with a battle cry: “Fight Tacloban!”.
Residents also cheered at Tacloban’s seaside stadium, where they watched the fight on a giant screen, their view partly obscured by the light filtering through holes in the ceiling.
Many residents were so excited to watch Pacquiao they asked officials to temporarily halt the distribution of relief goods, Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez said.
Pacquiao dedicated his comeback fight to Haiyan victims and promised to visit Tacloban and outlying regions devastated by the typhoon.
He thanked the Filipino people, particularly the typhoon survivors who prayed for him. “The honour is for you,” he said.
President Benigno Aquino III’s spokesman Herminio Coloma said Pacquiao “once again united the hearts and minds of our countrymen who are facing intense challenges brought by a series of tragedies that have befallen our country”.
Nebasa said Tacloban residents would eagerly await the visit of Pacquiao, who rose from poverty to become one of the world’s highest-paid athletes.