How our family miraculously survived Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)
Stories From Typhoon Survivor of Tanauan, Leyte
By Regie Musca
MANILA–The night before the landfall, our family prayed the rosary together after dinner. I kept on checking my twitter account, wanting to know every announcement that there was about the storm. An acquaintance twitted me “PH braces for the biggest storm in the planet this year!! This is no joke. Please prepare for possible pre-emptive evacuation. Prayers!”
I kept on thinking we were prepared. After all, we were inside our ancestral home in Barangay Buntay (Tanauan, Leyte) a relatively sturdy structure, the safe refuge of our family – the De Veyra family — for six generations now. In fact as many as seven families would share this traditional “family evacuation centre” every time a storm would come. Relatives living near the coastal area would always make sure they moved there. Our home is right in the center of the town, next to the plaza, about one and a half kilometers from the shore. We were safe, or so we thought.
That night, there were 22 of us in that house – four generations of our family – from my 96-year old grandma, Lola Posing to our littlest member, Louise, the one-year old daughter of my first cousin, Kuya Louie.
I was nervous and scared after receiving the twitted message. This storm was different, so I started packing important stuff in a garbage bag including my mom’s and dad’s important papers. I started putting down from the wall picture frames of my late Lolo (grandpa) Sendo, with his story about the historical Death March he was a part of, and placed them on a chair.
I rearranged the furniture on the first floor of our house, moved Lola Posing’s bed and the tables and chairs in a secure spot near the stairs to the second floor where the smallest kids were already sleeping. Most of us, adults and kids remaining on the first floor could not sleep that night. At home with me were my nephews and nieces, ranging in ages one to eight: Yanyan,Jr, Maeve, Avrille,Mardi,Lexa, Lawryll and Louise; my brother Richard; my cousins Ate Malou, Melissa, Larry, Lindsey, Carl,Kuya Louie and Irene, Cheryl the wife of Lawrence; my aunts and uncles Mama Lollie and Papa Louie, Tita Linda and Sheray; and my Mom, Lina and my dad Nalding; and Lola Posing.
Just before the fierce winds struck at around 4:00 am, my Dad went back to the “baking” house, a bungalow where my mom would do all her baking business, because he wanted to get something. Shortly after, we could feel our house shaking because of the strong winds, so that all the sleeping kids upstairs had to be brought down where we thought it was safer. We held hands and prayed the rosary as the strong winds continued, blowing off the roof of our house, and heavy rain coming through, soaking everything and everyone inside. As we saw a current of water coming inside fast, cousins tried to push hard the door, but the force of the winds ripped the door apart, prompting all of us to head upstairs. My brother Richard hastily scooped Lola Posing from her bed into his arms, while we carried the now shivering kids upstairs as the water rose so fast, in strong currents of waves. The kids were all crying, calling for God and “Mama” Mary to please let the water stop. My brother Richard was crying and shouting for my Dad because he knew he was not able to go back to the house, and the water would have already drowned our “baking house.” We put the kids under the long antique dinner table to shield them from the strong winds and the pouring rain, but we had to later carry them as they were cold.
We covered Lola Posing with a “trapal. “ I hugged her tightly and told her whatever happens, we wanted to let her know that we loved her very much, we thanked her for everything, and that we’re sorry for everything. However, even as she was also scared, she was the one who kept reassuring us that “Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Assumption will save us.” With the onrush of the lashing winds, however and the continued rising of the water, all we could hear were the shrieking voices of the children. “Lord tama na, tama na (enough, enough) please Lord!”
And then someone looked out and saw my Dad clinging to a wooden piece of wood attached to the roof of the “baking house.” He was to tell us later that the helmet he wore saved him from being seriously hurt by sharp debris that went with the strong current and gusts of wind. He said he felt the water rise up with a heavy current, almost up to his neck, and it was good he was able to get out of the house when the door was ripped off, then he just clinged to anything he could reach, as he was almost swept by the strong current. He was hanging there for almost two hours. We were so happy he was alive.
Then we also saw outside our cousins Alvin, Andrew, Aiai and Aika on top of the roof of their house, who were helped by their Dad Tito Alex as they almost got carried by the strong current, especially Andrew whom they thought was already lost, after his foot was pinned by the refregerator. We learned too that next door, another set of cousins Jeremy, Bon and Jerome, and their mom Tita Nida and dad Uncle Jun were safe as they climbed up to the attic as the waters almost drowned them.
From still another house, three uncles Tito Felits, Tito Milo and Tito Edwin, aunt Tita Purit and husband Tito Jojo, were saved as they stayed on the second floor of their badly battered house which was also left roofless, and where the water reached up to their knees. They thought for a while, with the house swaying with the strong winds, the floor would collapse.
In still another house where Auntie Amie, the eldest of 36 first cousins lived, she took in my Tita Loret and uncle Sonny, Uncle Popo and Uncle Raul and wife Tita Judith, and the wife of my cousin Arjie (Ligaya) and nephew Sean, 4, cousin Katreena and 2-year old baby, Nigel, and we learned everyone was almost trapped by the storm’s surging waters as they could not get out the wooden door on the first floor to make way to the second floor. Then all of a sudden the iron grill window was torn off by a strong gust of wind and all of them were able to get to the reach the backstairs and climb up to the now roofless second floor. They placed Nigel and Sean in a cabinet in case the waters would rise up further, hoping they would just float and be saved.
We learned later that even our cousins in Sta. Fe, the two brothers Nikko and Mickey and their mom Tita Del, also survived. Another brother Paolo, who works abroad, came home fast to find them safe. And the family of Uncle Bebs in Alang-alang were safe also. Uncle Bebs went on the second day to check us and brought food for us.
We feel fortunate that all of us survived, but saddened still that many have died.
With our houses all destroyed, most of us stayed in the Baranggay Hall. But without sufficient food and water, we were worried especially for the kids. We managed to save some rice that was soaked in flood waters, which we tried to wash off the rancid smell and cook, just so the kids could eat. So the kids would not dehydrate, we had to extract water from a pump well, and boil it several times, but were still worried they could get diarrhea. We shared with our neighbors whatever little food we had, as they said they didn’t mind having the rancid-smelling rice so they could have something to eat and also feed their kids. We helped each other survive. It was hard, not having safe food, water and medicine for those who got hurt with open wounds. We waited for relief for a long time. All phones were not working.
On the fourth day after the storm, my Dad, a newly elected Barangay Captain, was interviewed by ABS-CBN, where he appealed for help, especially water, food and medicine. I’m proud of my Dad for he helped not only our family but a lot of people in our village, including carrying the dead to a place where they could be readied for burial. Nobody at first wanted to touch the dead bodies lying around, but my Dad looked for volunteers who helped gather them and not just leave them lying around exposed. Many were wrapped in plastic in the plaza, right next to the Baranggay Hall, so we could see so many dead townmates and we kept on crying each time we would see their families, our neighbors. It was so heartbreaking.
As I write, I am now in Manila as “nurse” and “caregiver” to my Lola Posing, living in my aunt’s house, along with the several kids who were also transported by land route from Tanauan to Manila. With relatives’ help in the Philippines and abroad – we thank them so much – cousins were able to buy some medicine, water and food supplies to send to Tanauan directly. With the funds, we were able to have all the kids checked up in a hospital, especially those injured during the storm surge. The children were traumatized so we try to make them feel safe and happy. They like to tell stories and draw on paper their experiences during the storm. We encourage them to do so, as part of their healing.
My Lola Posing keeps on crying, always wanting to go home. She says she just wants to be where my Dad is. Dad is the eldest of her 10 children, and she worries for his and my Mom’s health and well-being. She worries that they remain homeless with our house still wrecked, and worries that there is still no electricity, not enough food for them. We tell her it is so uncomfortable for her to stay in the Baranggay Hall with so many mosquitoes, and painful to see the wreckage of our house, and the plaza made into a graveyard.
Still she cries day and night, calling for us to bring her back home. Yolanda may have wrecked our house, but not my Lola Posing’s sense of home. And we all feel the same way, so it will not be surprising to find us all back in Tanauan someday, to help rebuild what was destroyed, our town, for there is no place like home.