MOUNT PLEASANT - Eddie Pineda, who works for Mount Pleasant Waterworks, was visiting his dying father in the northern Philippines when Typhoon Haiyan struck early last month.
Pineda hardly felt any effects in Angeles City - just 10 minutes of rain and some strong winds - as the storm ripped through the country a few hundred miles south.
His father died 10 days later, and Pineda and his employer quickly agreed that he should remain in his native country to use his engineering expertise and his knowledge of local languages in the recovery effort.
Pineda spent about two weeks working with Charleston-based Water Missions International to provide safe drinking water to some of the hardest-hit towns.
The experience gave him an up-close look at the devastation, relief efforts and the perseverance of the human spirit.
"It was like a war zone," he said. "But even in the disaster area, I never saw people depressed. It was always a happy attitude."
Water Missions International has set up more than 20 water treatment systems, each of which can provide potable water to about 2,500 people per day. About 50 more are en route to the Philippines or are being installed.
Water Missions' Disaster Response Director Pat Haughney has visited several disaster areas, including the aftermath of Haiti's 2008 earthquake, but said his recent trip to the Philippines stood out.
"The damage here after Typhoon Haiyan was probably more extensive than I've seen anywhere," he said. "It just went for miles and miles and miles. Trees down, buildings demolished. It was kind of breathtaking in that sense."
Pineda saw the devastation in Tacloban, which received the bulk of media coverage, but he also worked in Cebu, Bogo City and Leyte-Samar.
He heard residents talk about how they were unprepared for Haiyan's storm surge, a tsunami-like wave that washed over city and buildings. "The reason a lot of people died, according to the locals, is they didn't know about the storm surge," he said. "They expected only wind and rain."
Pineda and others with Water Missions battled long work days, sometimes 19 hours long, as well as hot, humid temperatures, mosquitoes, blocked roads and other logistical challenges, from having to pack in all their food, water and supplies to having to hire private trucks to reach areas the military would not go because of possible rebels.
He saw the price of bottled water double after the storm, making it more difficult for already poor residents to afford. "Many people were living in boxes and drinking contaminated water," he said. "A lot of people got sick."
Basey, just east of Tacloban, used to chlorinate its water to make it safe for drinking. After the storm, the power was out, Pineda said, "and the chlorination building got destroyed."
Haughney said without help, more Philippine citizens could die from illnesses than from the storm's winds or surge. He said Water Missions expects to remain working there "for months to come, possibly longer."
Pineda, who was honored at this week's Waterworks Commission meeting, said his main lessons learned were how blessed citizens are in the United States, how inspirational it is to see so many people from different countries trying to help, and that "life is about sharing."
Haughney said Pineda was a big asset.
"It was a tough time for him personally, but he was willing to help," Haughney said. "He spoke the language and understands the culture and people. It's always a big help for us to have someone like that. Beyond that, he was quite willing to work under difficult conditions and to do what needed to be done. Eddie was a real trooper."
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.