No, this isn't a review of the movie "The Impossible". However, this will be a story about my family, a story of an event which everyone thought would be impossible to happen. Well, impossible to happen to us at least. And one more thing, this is a story which is impossible to forget.

There were two families living in a bungalow home near the coast. There were seven of us in the house; Cesar, my father (67), Thelma, my mother (62), and two of my brothers- Jonas(Kuya Tata/31), Julius (Kuya Duke/30) and me, Joanna (22).

Kuya Tata, together with his wife Geraldine (Ate Geo/32) and child Tarin (3), just moved to Tacloban City from Manila last February 2013. Everybody in the house were so happy to be together again, now with the two new additions. I was so overjoyed that finally after 22 years of being the only girl in the family with the exemption of Nanay of course, I now have an "Ate" to talk to. To some families, it would be an issue having in-laws around 24/7 but it wasn't for our family.

Our lives revolved around Tarin, the cute little boy who made the family bond much stronger. Tarin was diagnosed with mild autism, he had speech delay. He only knew a few words but still he didn't know his identity. What his name is, his parents' names, etc. So everyone in the family was committed to help him with the interventions, therapy, and other activities. Ever since Tarin came into our lives the family was much happier, abundant and stronger. He was like everyone's lucky charm. Our days spent together as a family were never a bore. My family was perfect for me. Sure, we had our share of arguments and problems but at the end of everyday we all slept with a peaceful and full heart.

November 4, 2013, Tatay's relatives from Iloilo visited Tacloban. As usual the whole family were together for tours around the city, dinners, sharing stories and catching up. On November 5th, the whole clan went to Samar for a beach outing. Such a perfect timing cause it was Ate Geo's 32nd birthday. That day was wonderful! In fact the whole week from November 4-November 7 was perfect. Everybody was happy and carefree. We knew about the super typhoon that was about to hit the province and we were keeping ourselves updated but we didn't worry that much since Leyte experiences typhoons every year and the city isn't located near the Pacific ocean. By November 7, Thursday, 6 o'clock in the morning, I just got off from work (call center) and decided not to go to sleep cause I wanted to spend time with the whole clan because the next day, our relatives from Iloilo will be going back to their respective homes. We toured them around Palo, the next town from Tacloban. Again, the whole clan was together the entire day and since I didn't want to miss the family fun, I decided to fake a migraine and told my supervisor that I couldn't report for work that night. I doubted to go to work cause I knew that a typhoon was coming and I didn't want to have a hard time going home the next day. 

Until now, I am very thankful that I spent the whole day with my family and that I ditched work that night cause little did I know, it was my last day to spend with my parents, my brother Jonas, my sister Geo and my nephew Tarin..... 

November 8, Friday, as early as 5 o'clock in the morning my family was awakened by the strong winds and rain. As I went out of my room, I found Tatay sitting by his office table, looking out the window as Haiyan/Yolanda (local term) enveloped Tacloban. "A nipa hut could never survive in this wind.", Tatay said pitifully. My brothers went outside to secure Tatay's tools, the cars, motorcycles, and etc. Ate Geo was at the dining table drinking coffee and eating leftover torta, Nanay and I joined in. Tarin woke up and it seemed like he was enjoying the cold wind, he was feeling cozy and happy seeing that everyone was awake and enjoying breakfast.

The winds were getting stronger and we can feel the house vibrate because of the pressure. The sound of the wind was so eerie. We were all looking outside, trees were already uprooted, our walls were destroyed, windows cracked, and then we heard a blasting sound. We didn't know what triggered it. I opened our screen door to just feel what the wind was like, and good God it was so strong as if my lips were being blown away as I was talking! The intensity of the winds can never be explained. Suddenly, as I was standing by the altar I felt water falling from the ceiling, I rushed to the kitchen to get a basin and that's when I saw that water was already coming inside the house from the kitchen door. We all thought it was only rain water, so we blocked the doors with rugs thinking it would absorb it. In just a matter of seconds, the water rose up to knee level, so I went to my room quickly grabbed my backpack and picked up my important things. As I went out of my room, the water was already chest level. We all decided to go out of the house cause if not, we would be trapped inside. I had a hard time going out because of the strong current rushing in, so Nanay pulled me out. We were all holding on to the window grills and tried not to panic. But then, Ate Geo screamed and said that she was bitten by a snake, she panicked and Tatay instructed me to suck the venom out of Ate Geo's thumb and spit it out. I was very hesitant because I wasn't sure of what I was about to do but I did it anyway cause we were all so desperate for survival. We were scared but we tried to calm down cause we didn't want Tatay to worry about us more. Tatay just had an angioplasty last August 2013 and we were told that if he had one more attack, that would be it.

As the water was rising, we struggled more to stay afloat. Kuya Ta was trying to make a hole on the ceiling so that we could go up. The first one to climb up was Nanay and we were trying to get Tarin to go up as well. But Ate Geo was having a hard time carrying him, she said she was feeling very weak, maybe it was because of the snake bite. Tatay was telling me to reach for the gutter of our roof and just hold on to it. Kuya Tata saw a life jacket and a cooler floating, so he told Kuya Duke to get it. Kuya Duke swam for it, got the life jacket and placed it on Tarin. Since he wasn't able to reach for the cooler and it was floating farther away, he swam for it again and pushed it towards Kuya Tata, it was then that Kuya Duke was separated from us. From that time, I just saw Ate Geo floating away, holding on to a tree branch and I saw Tarin floating as well. Kuya Tata and I was calling out to Ate Geo, we were screaming for her to grab Tarin, when I saw her hand reached for Tarin I focused myself on saving my parents. I'm not so sure of what happened to Kuya Tata, I couldn't see well because of the strong winds and it's as if crushed ice were being thrown at my face. I told Nanay to come down from the ceiling cause the water was still rising and I let her hold on to the log Tatay and I were holding. At that point, I could see the worry in their eyes that they were trying to hide. The current was still so strong, it's as if we were inside a washing machine. The last time I saw Tatay, he was struggling to surface the water, gasping for air. Nanay and I were being swept away by the current, I know she was terrified and worried for all of us, she just kept saying, "Lord, save us!" I told her to just hold on and not let go but Nanay kept silent, I knew she was already tired. Seeing my family in desperation was agonizing for me, and what's worse is the fact that I couldn't do anything to save them.

There was a refrigerator floating so I held onto it and let Nanay hold it as well. We found ourselves at the building of Radyo Diwa, an establishment at the back of our house. The waves were crashing onto the refrigerator we were holding that I was being pushed under the steel trusses of the building, I was afraid to be trapped so I pushed the refrigerator away and held onto a log, that was the time Nanay and I got separated. Many times I drowned and struggled to surface but debris were blocking my head, I got so tired of trying to surface that I just gave up and said, "If I'm going to die today, then so be it." I asked for forgiveness, I was praying and saying I love you in my head to everyone I love. The weird part was, the moment I decided to let go and accept what was happening, I was able to surface.

What I saw were people on the roof of Radyo Diwa waving at me. I was hoping Tatay, Kuya Tata, Ate Geo, Tarin and Kuya Duke were on that roof, trying to tell me they are okay. And I saw Nanay, calling out on me, raising her right hand. Up until this day, I could still remember how Nanay sounded that time, it was my first time to hear her like that. She sounded so desperate. And it broke my heart to see her that way, so I climbed up a hard wood, I floated and reached for her arms. I kept telling her to just hold on to the hard wood, I tried helping her to lift the half of her body, but when my hands slipped down from her arms to her fingers, her body splashed into the water, and that was when I realized Nanay was gone. She didn't struggle anymore, the look on her face broke not just my heart, but my whole being was smashed into a million pieces. As I was floating on that hard wood, I tried to carry her body and hold onto her. We were swept away by the current to this water tank with steel frames, so I locked my left leg onto the frame as I was trying to lift Nanay with both my arms and my right leg. The current was still strong that I was being dragged by it again but I was able to hold on to the steel frames. It was difficult to bear seeing Nanay helpless, lifeless, her beautiful smiling face was now a face in shock. At that time, I was about to make the toughest decision in my life... 

Am I going to hold on to Nanay and die as well? Or should I let her go and save myself? 

I seriously considered just dying with Nanay at that point, I didn't want other people to think that I didn't do anything to save her, to save them. I didn't want others to blame me because they died and I lived. And what good is my life now that my family was taken away from me? I thought. But something was telling me that Nanay and Tatay would want me to survive. I asked myself, what if Kuya Ta, Ate Geo, Kuya Duke survived? And what if Tarin survived? What if his parents didn't? Who would take care of him? Who would feed him? I wanted to survive for them, more importantly for Tarin. I loved him dearly, as if he was my own. Something was telling me why should I think of what other people will say? I was able to survive the deluge for a reason. 

Staring at Nanay's face, I asked for her forgiveness, for everything I did that hurt her, I thanked her for everything she has done for me, for us. I thanked her for being the strong woman that she is, that even during her last moments in this world, she still managed to look out for me and save me. I embraced her so tightly and kissed her for the last time. And that was it.....


I let her go and I never looked back.

No words can explain how I felt that moment. I would never wish that to happen to anyone. So there I was, beside the water tank... crying my eyes out, screaming my heart out, I was feeling so alone I thought I was the only one who survived from my family. I was trying to figure out where I was. Then I realized what I was looking at... I was looking at my beloved Tacloban- destroyed, wrecked, and heart broken.

# haiyanstoriesofsurvival
# yolanda
# survivor