All good things must come to an end. My Internship in the United States of America is over. Spanning almost a year, it has taught me countless lessons and broadened my scope of understanding of the American culture. I can go on and on about how it was one of the best things that has ever happened in my life, but I would like this post to be about one of the greatest struggles my family has ever faced – Yolanda/Haiyan.
Super Typhoon Yolanda, also known by its International name Haiyan, was the strongest storm ever recorded in history. The term storm surge was used to describe it. Of all the places it could have wreaked havoc, it chose Philippines, my home country. More specifically, the Visayan islands. Yolanda’s made about four or five landfalls. The first was at Guian, Eastern Samar. It had sustained winds of 195 mph. Now, I may not know much about storms, but I knew this was exceptionally strong. The second landfall was at Dulag/Alang-Alang, if I remember correctly. Then, it hit my hometown – Tacloban City.
November 8. 5:00 AM. My little sister Trixia was sleeping soundly when strong gusts of wind struck our homes at Fatima Village, Tacloban City. She woke up to the sounds of shrieks and furniture banging against the walls. Rain poured non-stop. Water levels rose fast. In a few minutes, the entire first stories were completely submerged. Survival instincts kicked in and Mom and the others climbed to higher grounds. That was only the beginning, though. Nothing could have prepared them for what was yet to come.
Yolanda sent roofs flying, brought about high levels of flood water, unearthed coffins, scattered corpses, drowned living people, and… claimed a staggering 10,000+ lives. Lots and lots of innocent lives lost. The storm surge was an apocalyptic destruction of epic proportions. All I could do was supplicate God to keep all my loved ones safe.
I was at Maryland when the storm surge hit, fresh from my Internship. My nights consisted of heavy prayers. My heart felt like it could have shattered to pieces at any time. Although I did not shed a single tear, not a single day passed that I wasn’t worried. I’m incredibly strong for someone so small. Living another day was still a reason to smile and be thankful.
All cellsite towers were knocked down, making it impossible for any type of communication. I had no way of knowing – not the slightest inkling – the status of Mom, Trixia, and my relatives. All I knew was that they would stick together no matter what. News coverage of Tacloban brought about mixed feelings. With varying footages, different parts of Tacloban City were featured. Glimpses of my city during the storm surge’s onslaught was painful to watch. Yet, without it, my imagination would have conjured images subject to morbid introspection. I am always an optimistic person. My faith in God remained unwavered. I knew that beyond the murky tunnel that my loved ones were in, they would find their way to the light at the end.
With flood water rising to incredible heights, Mom, Trixia, and my relatives held firmly on posts and its wires, ensuring they were complete. Waves were dragging them to the entrance of a subdivision just in front of our house. They didn’t have ample time to prepare. Amid the storm surge, all types of perilous items flew and flowed about: nails, screws, tiles, anything sharp. Since they were almost underwater, evading anything proved to be arduous.
Luckily, Mom, Trixia, and the others found refuge at Zilog, a Filipino restaurant owned by Mom’s brother in front of Robinsons Mall Tacloban. They, along with more of my relatives, stayed there for a couple of days. Word of their safety and status came from my cousin Gisella, one day. At that time, I was already at New Jersey. Overwhelmed with relief, I offered a quick little prayer to God. My faith grew stalwartly stronger.
While Zilog turned into their temporary sanctuary, they were not spared of the sight of the macabre aftermath of the storm surge. A plethora of corpses ironically adorned the entire city. As if dictated by law, it was temporarily in a survival-of-the-fittest state. Looting became a conspicuous choice among the victims. Basically, anything essential instantaneously became scarce. Even Zilog had limited resources.
On a side note: Trixia and the others enjoyed bacon everyday. Not too bad. Eventually, they would need to flee the ghost town-turned city. And they did.
Mom and the others agreed to go to Manila. The journey wasn’t easy. It took them two days. Tacloban City’s airport was completely washed out. Hopping on a C130 was the only means to leave by air. Realizing that the lines only kept longer (almost everyone wanted to leave), they decided to travel by land. I only have bits of details about their two-day journey as it was really heartbreaking to absorb. They went to Samar first. Then, Ormoc was their second destination. They found shelter in a little hotel on the way that kinda became a refugee station as well. They had to sleep in the lobby with other victims so they could have enough money for food and water. After that, Cebu was next. They had to wait on a boat for hours before being told that they had to switch boats. It was devastating hearing that. They had no choice. They had to wait for another boat, get on board, and wait for hours again before they reached Manila.
Parañaque City became their temporary home in Manila. Two days later, I arrived here in the Philippines. I flew from California. I hugged Mom and Trixia the instant I saw them. For almost one year, I was away from them. The warmth of their hugs was magical. I missed them so much!
I can proudly say, after enduring the wrath of Yolanda, Mom and Trixia are survivors of the strongest typhoon ever recorded in history. My hometown was almost wiped off the map. Now, everyone from all around the globe are helping rebuild Tacloban City. Just goes to show how strong Filipinos are and how helpful other countries can be.
P.S. Of all the places Yolanda could have hit, she chose Philippines. Certainly, there are countries far more advanced that could have withstood its might. Why? Because Philippines, despite all the criticisms, is built from the foundation of strong individuals. Philippines survived the strongest typhoon. Regardless of the hardships, we Filipinos are still able to flash a sincere smile and help one another. The Filipino spirit is unbreakable! Tindog Tacloban!
P.P.S. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all the countries and individuals who donated to victims of Yolanda.