Editor's note: This is a very personal account from a Tacloban survivor of probably one of the strongest typhoons to ever hit the Philippines. Our Yonip guest columnist, Daphne Cardillo, who is a long-time resident of Tacloban, writes about it as it was. She says, " At least writing is a form of rising above the storm. It gives you courage. "
COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
What happened in Tacloban is just the beginning of the things to come – unless the industrialized countries reduce the amount of their carbon emission. The storms of the future will be of Yolanda’s intensity if there won’t be a stop to global warming.
Cebu, Philippines. It is a month now since my daughter and I hastily packed up a few things in order to evacuate to my sister’s house in V&G Betterhomes Subdivision in Tacloban City. Only three days earlier, I arrived in Palo from a four-day trip to Southern Leyte. So still in the travel light mode I just brought with me one night dress, one house dress and a few undergarments. Wearing only short pants, white sweatshirt and rubber sandals, I left the house in Palo, Leyte at around nine in the evening of Thursday, November 7, 2013.
Earlier that day, I did a little preparation for the coming of the storm Yolanda (Haiyan) that was reported to be moving at a speed of 260km per hour (yes, there was no report of sustained wind at 310kph with gusts of up to 370kph) and considered a super typhoon. A hired hand had to tighten a GI sheet on my newly replaced kitchen roof and trim some branches of the orange tree hanging over the roof in the living room. I even had to cut a papaya tree myself late in the afternoon. Still, I had no idea of the extent of the damage the coming storm will bring to us but to secure a bit of my things, I moved all wooden furniture in the kitchen toward a safe wall and brought the chinaware inside the main house.
That was the first time for me to evacuate at the event of a coming storm. For in the past year, I’ve been living in a one-level house that is too near the sea coast, probably less than a hundred yards from the shore. I live on the same block where the statue of Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur stands, on the area where the liberation forces took their first steps when they landed in Leyte in 1944.
Having lived in Leyte for most of my years, I am used to having typhoons hit our small island in the Pacific Rim. Leyte-Samar is a typhoon belt and also an earthquake belt, so there is this air of nonchalance for native settlers at storms coming their way.
This must be the reason for that feeling of complacency among the locals that cost a lot of lives with the coming of Yolanda. We did not experience a very strong typhoon in the past several years for the typhoon path seemed to have moved northward to Luzon, and lately hitting the Philippine southern part of Mindanao. The big ones that hit Leyte in the Visayas took place in the 80s and 90s.
For as of Wednesday the 6th of November, the local government of Palo has made announcements for people along the coastal villages to evacuate. And again on Thursday the same officials were making the rounds and instructing people to vacate their residences. But one of my neighbors said that Palo has gone through many typhoons and their family stayed put. A group of young men were even drinking at a corner on the night of our flight and with one lad declaring: “Tatapuon namon it Yolanda” (“We’re going to meet Yolanda”). Indeed, only a few took heed of the warning.
The raging storm
At past four at dawn of Friday, 8 November 2013 the electric power was cut. Then an hour later the wind started to blew in at our part of the city. V&G subdivision is a residential area about two kilometers from the coastline and was spared of the sea waves. But the strong winds still caused so much damage to trees, posts, and vertical structures. Roofs were detached and concrete walls collapsed.
By seven in the morning there was no more signal for the telephone lines and we were cut off from the world. Yolanda was building up strength by then which lasted for the next four hours, emitting a whistling sound at intervals while lashing out very strong winds with rain water that you cannot see through.
Even if the winds were a bit high, they were so strong and lingered for so long, doing a massive destruction of everything underneath. Nature, indeed, follows the law of physics – the warmer the sea, the stronger the winds. And the power of a very strong wind can be amazing, making puny objects the works of engineering of the modern man.
In the middle of the storm a whole household across the street had to take shelter in my sister’s house. The GI sheets of their roof were pulled out that the couple with their four children and housekeeper took cover inside the car. But in a little while the vehicle was also felled by a concrete fence that all seven had to move out. Under the raging wind and into the flooded street, my niece’ husband had to help bring the children inside our shelter.
The words that passed around after the storm were news of death and massive destruction of trees and man-made structures. A lot died in San Jose, an outer suburb, and the sea can now be seen on both sides from the middle of the road going to the airport, meaning, that the houses blocking your view have been leveled down.
Words passed around of dead bodies scattered everywhere – in downtown Tacloban and along the coastal villages from the city to the neighboring towns. Houses, lamp posts, walls and buildings were destroyed, wholly or partially. Dwellings made of light materials were completely washed out by the waves or either torn down by the winds. The heart of the city turned into a horrible place of dead bodies, debris, and mud.
Trekking through wasteland
The following day on the 9th of November I ventured to check our vacated residence in Palo, the town next to Tacloban. My daughter and I rode on a motorbike driven by my niece’ husband and we navigated the roads covered with fallen construction materials, household items, trees, posts with power lines, and upturned vehicles. The scene that we saw was of ruins and people walking just about anywhere. Now devoid of shelter and looking for food and water, a lot of people simply walked around, some looking tired and dazed.
When we passed by barangay Candahug of Palo, the regional offices at the government center were all destroyed, still standing but with open roofs and broken doors and windows. And the mahogany trees that I love were cut in half with only the jarred trunks left and sticking out like totem poles. The place looks like a wasteland and the only sign of life are the grasses that remained in that wide empty space. Indeed, hope still starts from the ground.
Reaching Baras greeted us a coastal village in ruins, with only the bigger concrete structures left standing but without roofs. In that area near the shore, the water rose up to 15feet and my one-level abode was submerged in sea water. A partition wall collapsed, my kitchen leveled to the ground and the water drifted away most of my things there including a long cupboard. The main house though remained intact and turned into a big washing machine whirling all the things inside.
After that first peek at our house in Palo, my daughter and I took two more trips going there during the first week after the storm. On foot. It took us about an hour to walk from V&G subdivision in Tacloban to Baras, Palo. One time on our way home we got lost along the way, and another time under the scorching heat of the sun we were alarmed by reports of rebels approaching the city’s periphery. But it was during these walks in the midst of the ruins that you can see the real effect the storm Yolanda has brought on our lives.
Temporary lack of law
As my daughter and I got lost on our way back to V&G in Tacloban on November 11 we saw the streets in that housing village blocked by early eve. When we reached my sister’s house it was then that I learned of some safety measures the residents have adopted. There was looting at the business establishments in the city and after the stores and warehouses were emptied, the next likely target were the residences of the not so ravaged interior villages.
I gathered that the men in V&G were rounded up by the soldiers and briefed of a security mechanism. Curfew was set at 6pm, roads blocked by night time, a resident to wear white shirt at night to indicate as an insider, and to make banging or clanging sounds if suspicious characters are seen within the village. A few has even received instructions from the army “not to hesitate to kill if there is forcible entry” into your household.
So in the following nights the village became like a war zone – men chasing suspicious persons, lights from flashlights waving in the dark, clanging sounds, gunfire – that one cannot get a much needed sleep. The coming of the dark turned into a cause for worry and anxiety on top of the scarcity of food, water, and other minimal requirements for survival. My daughter did not want to stay another night longer in Tacloban that on Thursday, November 14 we boarded on a C130 and took an afternoon flight for Manila.
A view from afar
It was in Quezon City that I finally had contact with the outside world – charge my drained mobile phone, text and call, and see on TV the great damage done by typhoon Yolanda. It was after leaving Tacloban that I learned of media persons who died, of friends still missing, of those who died, and also those who survived.
It was also a week after the storm that relief distribution has actually started. There were relief goods that arrived earlier but I guess there was simply a lack of manpower who will distribute the relief items. The streets have to be cleared first for vehicles to pass, cadavers placed in body bags, and there was this lack of people to organize and coordinate in the relief operation. The people of Tacloban were all typhoon victims to be readily available for public service.
At hindsight, what happened in Tacloban is just the beginning of the things to come, unless the industrialized countries reduce the amount of their carbon emission. The storms of the future will be of Yolanda’s intensity if there won’t be a stop to global warming.
December 7, 2013