We were on the first floor of the hotel when the water started rushing in. We were at the hotel’s café taking advantage of the free WiFi that was only accessible on the first floor, and contemplating on ordering food. We could not see outdoors from where we were sitting, but I kept walking further away right next to the door where I could look outside and see the wind. The wind had gone so strong that it was very visible. Yeah, I never thought I could actually see wind, but I thought I did that night. It looked white, and it was swirling around. I wondered to myself, “Am I looking at a tornado?” In spite of myself, I found that I was enjoying the moment, as I looked on with awe.
I kept walking toward our table and back to the door again, until the water started rushing in . . fast. We had to alert all the guests on the first floor so they could leave immediately. People started rushing toward the stairs, with the water close behind us. Most of the women were already crying, one looked like she was having a nervous breakdown. I tried to distance myself from the others as I had my laptop tucked beneath my huge shirt (to protect it from getting wet), and I wanted to make sure that I could see just where my younger cousins and uncle were (my aunt was upstairs in our room), so I could make sure that no one was left behind.
The Uncertainty before Yolanda’s Landfall
We were at La Rica Hotel when Yolanda made its fateful landfall on the city of Tacloban. I decided to check into a hotel on the morning of November 7 (Yolanda made its landfall early morning the following day). By then, my friends had already been frantically looking for a vacant hotel room, driving around the city at wee hours. . some of them to no avail. My father kept calling me that morning, asking that I move to the safety of a hotel. I told him that it would be fruitless as the hotels were already fully booked. I went on and tried my luck anyway. Surprisingly, after just three phone calls I got a reservation at La Rica, in their last vacant room. It was exactly the way I wanted it, a windowless room on the fourth floor (so we would not have to deal with the strong wind breaking windows or the roofing on the top floor, and so the flood water would not reach our room). It was also exactly where I pictured we ought to be, at La Rica Hotel, a seven-floor concrete building (In Tacloban, this is as high-rise as it gets.) It was also the cheapest room in the hotel, which was important for me as I didn’t have much cash on-hand.
As I only had a room for single occupancy, I had to make my uncle, aunt, and their two kids sneak in. The owner of the hotel showed up that night though. She asked where I was staying and was surprised to learn that I got the smallest room. We knew each other from way back, so I informed her of my family staying with me and got her consent.
While we were cramped in the hotel room, I kept wondering to myself, “Did I overreact? What if the typhoon turned out to be not as strong as I had expected, and I made my uncle and his family go through all this trouble for nothing?” During that time, the weather had been very pleasant. And even as the people were doing panic buying and preparing for the typhoon, many were unconvinced or unsure of just how bad it was going to be. Personally, I am never the type to get scared of calamities. I remember when an extraordinarily strong earthquake hit our city and my officemates and I had to hurry out of our company building, everybody had been in fright but I was just laughing (but stopped after guiltily noticing the fright around me). The night before Yolanda was different though. I felt a degree of unease I would usually not feel in other similar circumstances. I was seriously contemplating getting a hotel room even then, especially because I kept getting constant prodding from my best friend who was in Manila at the time. And I kept thinking of deep waters, and rats swimming beneath the surface. But I spoke with my father on the phone and he told me that it was the wind that I should be worrying about. Since I am not scared of the wind, I just shrugged off the idea of checking into a hotel.
Morning came and I kept getting a lot of calls from my family in Manila. The tone had changed. My father checked online through a site he had been using since way back, and that proved to be more accurate than PAGASA forecast every time. What the site was reporting did not look good, and they had started to worry. They even wanted me to fly to Manila if it was at all possible.
The Flood and the Rescue Efforts
Fast forward to that fateful morning, we hurried up to the higher floors of the building. The water rushed into the building really fast. In a matter of minutes, the first floor was fully submerged in water (the first floor was about 10 feet high). Many of the guests started camping along the corridors. Their rooms had windows. They had to stay away from the breaking glasses and the rainwater streaming in. My family and I stayed in the safety of our windowless room. It had gotten dark then, because the floodwater had put out the generators, which were on the first floor. From where we were at, we could not tell if it was daytime outside, or if it was raining. We were right smack in the middle of a concrete building, but we could hear Yolanda and her loud whistling. At the time, Yolanda had started to display the monster typhoon that it was predicted to be. What surprised me was how the sound was hurting our ears. It felt so much like when you are in a plane and the pressure is hurting your ears.
It felt safe in our room, but I felt very worried about the people outside. I knew I could not just lie there. I wanted to go out and find a window where I could see what was happening. With the extraordinarily strong wind, I knew that going near any window was risky. But it was a risk I had to take. I went out, walked two corners further out where I could find a window. I was surprised to see that it was actually very bright outside. I went nearer the window and saw people on the roofs of the nearby homes and buildings. They were lying face down on the roofs as they held on. My 17-year-old male cousin later went to where I was standing, and cried when he saw a lone woman hanging on to the roof of a house, her clothes almost taken off of her because of the strong wind. As I looked out, I noticed the road, which was almost level to where we were at. Then I started to realize that we were on the fourth floor, which means I was not looking at the road. I was looking at a flood, an unimaginably high level of flood! While watching, I uttered, “If only they could climb up here.” There were two male guests standing near me at the time. The next thing I knew they were trying to break the window grills.
I later found out that these two men were from Manila, and that they were in the city doing site check for Shell. Coincidentally, they had rappelling equipment with them (stuff they needed for their job). We actually had stuff we could use to pull people up!
We were able to pull together a little rescue team. Even my uncle who was too nervous to think straight and was not feeling well started helping out when I asked him (he just had a recent experience that had made him easily nervous and panicky). He eventually started feeling like his normal self. We first pulled out a woman. She was drenched wet, and was very panicky and appeared to be at her wit’s end, repeatedly calling out “Jesus.” Then she later started saying “Yung baby. Yung baby. (The baby. The baby.)” I frantically asked her if there was a baby down there, and she said she had a two-year-old granddaughter. I called out to those near the window to pull up the baby first. It took a while to get it done though as they could not just tie up the infant and pull her up. They needed an adult to go down and pick her up. By then, some of the guests had gathered near us. Later some women started yelling “Patay na ang baby. Patay na ang baby. (The baby is dead. The baby is dead.)” I got so mad because they were making the distraught woman even more upset. I had to make the onlookers leave. When the baby was finally pulled up, I got so emotional that I cried (the only time I cried during the whole Yolanda ordeal). We were able to pull up the baby’s father next, then his sister. Two housemaids followed. Then the grandfather, who appeared to be the head of the household. They were all frantically talking about two elderly relatives who were left behind (and about their high-end cars that were not insured). One was suffering from partial paralysis and ordered the housemaid who was watching her to just leave without her, as the water submerged their home in a matter of minutes. The other elderly woman reportedly went black and blue as she saw the water arrive. They tearfully assumed that both had already died.
Even as the rescue efforts had stopped, I continued to keep watch at the window. Two men later waved for help. I asked the hotel guests to resume the efforts again. In spite of exhaustion and apparent hesitation, they started taking action right away. The men were bigger this time so I went to the rooms to scout for more help. One man told me that he could not help because he had a broken arm that was just starting to heal. I went further out to the other rooms. When I went back to our spot by the window, I was pleasantly surprised to find the man with the broken arm helping out.
When the strong winds had gone and the floodwater had subsided, we got signals from those farther out on a roof outside the building that the two elderly members of the family were actually alive, and that they were by the building’s exit door. The family frantically rushed to find a way down, and to get them. That the two elderlies managed to survive was nothing short of a miracle. I was very glad to know that their family was still complete!
Hours after the eye of the monster typhoon hit Tacloban. The water had drained out. Hotel staff had started to wipe off the thick mud that had formed on the first floor. I decided to venture outdoors. Looting had began. The streets were teeming with people carrying all kinds of things. I started hearing that 7R and Children’s Place (stores selling high-end items) have been emptied out by looters. A pregnant woman was carrying baby stuff that were obviously looted from a store. People were walking around with all sorts of brand-new items. I started taking photos. A man screamed at me asking that I stop taking photos, saying he did not want to go to jail. I screamed right back, “Kay ayaw pagpinannguha hin diri imo!” (Then stop taking stuff that are not yours!).
I started pondering the idea of walking farther along the streets of Tacloban’s downtown area, trying to figure out the risks. Trying to get a sense of the kind of temperament people were in. My curiosity got the best of me. I needed to know what was happening to my city. Plus, I thought to myself, “These boots are made for walking.” (I was wearing boots then, and was obviously trying to conjure a cocky attitude). I walked along Zamora street, Salazar street, and Justice Street.
I started walking toward Old Gaisano (one of the main shopping hubs in Tacloban), along Salazar street. It felt like I was the only one walking toward its direction. Crowds of people were walking my way carrying all sorts of things. I was surprised to see people from different walks of life. I started asking myself, “What is happening to MY city?” Sadness threatened to emerge but I fought it. I fought hard. With that kind of climate around me, weakness was not an option.
I kept hearing people talking about how dark it was inside Gaisano, and how they felt like the floor was gong to give anytime soon because of the growing crowd. Then I heard a group of men telling each other that they ought to stay in one group. They sounded like they were about to go on a gang war. I thought to myself. Is this really happening to the downtown area? The city center? I thought to myself, “MY city had gone lawless.” I kept taking photos. It was a risk, because I had no idea when people would start targeting each other. But it was a temptation I could not resist. What I was witnessing was beyond my imagination.
I kept walking farther around the area, trying to assess the situation. I started to realize that commerce had died. Soon, we would have nothing to purchase. There’s no telling how long our food would last. Soon we would have to rely on relief goods. The possibility of hunger and thirst started to dawn on me. Surprisingly, I was not scared at all. Not one bit.
I knew I had to act. I went around looking for a store I could buy food from. I could only find a vendor selling stuff on the sidewalk. And she said that they would only sell chips and biscuits. She had a case of soft drinks, but they were not for sale anymore. I bought all her biscuits, then headed back to the hotel.
My uncle and his wife decided to venture out to their home at the V&G area, which was quite a distance from where we were at. I tried to debate against it, but gave in. My aunt’s son was at their home. She had to know if he was ok. If I were a mother, I would have done the same thing. My uncle, aunt, and cousin (a 17-year-old boy) all left together, leaving my twelve-year-old female cousin and me behind. They promised they would be back before dark.
Nighttime came and there was still no sign of them. With no cellphone signal, there was no way to know what had happened to them. With just my young cousin with me, I knew I had to be ready for anything.
The Night After
My cousin, Brina, and I were in bed. I was trying to get Brina to feel comfortable, while trying to stay as alert as possible. The building had been filled with stark darkness, and there was no telling what people were capable of anymore. There were just the two of us then. I have started to worry about her parents and brother, but convinced Brina that they were just busy trying to get their home tidy.
I suddenly heard unusual noise outside. I went out to check and realized that people were hurrying downstairs because there was threat of fire. A nearby building was on fire. I told my cousin to stay calm and pack her most important things. I carried my own stuff and the fire extinguisher on the floor with me. We went to the second floor where people have flocked together. Without the comfort of a bed and her feet wet from the water on the floor, I convinced her that our biggest problem at the moment was passing boredom. And that she can fix it by playing with her tablet.
Seeing that my cousin had started to get comfortable playing with her tablet, I went around the hotel to check how things were going. I found out that one of the hotel guests was about to give birth. We needed to take her to the hospital.
Another guest was having high blood pressure, while another had an injured eye. We needed to get them to the hospital.
Outside, a car suddenly showed up. ChinChin (who pulled me by the hand when she saw me, like she needed support badly), the owner of the hotel, managed to barter with the driver. He would take the patients to the hospital, and he could check into the hotel in exchange. The pregnant woman and the guest with the injured eye were successfully brought to the hospital. The Korean guest who was having high blood pressure had to stay behind. They could no longer accommodate him in the small car.
ChinChin, two of the hotel staff, one of the guests (who was a nurse), and I decided to go to a nearby pharmacy to hopefully find an equipment to measure his blood pressure and some medicine too (yes, we decided to go looting). Rose Pharmacy had already been looted by then. It was almost empty (save for a bunch of rubble). We took our chances anyway. We braved the pitch-black night, and walked through debris. We found that the looters had done their job well. Save for several useless rubble, the pharmacy was practically empty. We kept looking anyway. I found a few tablets on the floor, read the label to the others. Surprisingly, it was for people suffering from high blood pressure. I told them we should keep looking because my uncle needed medicine for his hyperacidity, plus we still needed that equipment (giving someone medicine to lower blood pressure without first actually measuring it could be risky). ChinChin bent down, found a couple of medicines, and Voila! they were antacids, and my uncle’s preferred brand name too! Yeah, just our luck.
The Ghost Town
The city had become a ghost town. It was pitch black outside. You would not see anyone outdoors. You could hardly see anything at all. It was just total darkness. The people I was with kept saying it looked like a scene from ‘Walking Dead’.
Several men suddenly showed up from nowhere. They told us that we should just leave because the pharmacy had already been emptied out. We did leave. But when we were outside, the people I was with said we needed cotton and bandage. I told them I thought I saw cotton and the tape that usually goes with the gauze. I ran back in, went farther back and grabbed the wet goodies.
There were two strangers outside, in the dark. One of them said he was wounded. We invited them back to the hotel so we could tend to their wounds.
What I thought was cotton was not cotton after all, but it turned out useful anyway. So did the wet tape.
There were a couple wounded people that we somehow managed to attend to. I gave antibiotics to those badly wounded (for what it’s worth). Also, much to my surprise, one of the strangers from the dark night happened to be someone I knew. I only realized it when I accidentally pointed the faint light from my small flashlight at him.
It was Wildon, one of my ‘brods’ from the fraternity I am associated with (Tau Omega Mu). He and a friend tried to walk to his home in V&G, but had to walk right back when they reached Bliss (he got wounded on the foot). They were planning to walk back to Kassel right after we were done tending to Wildon’s wound. They wanted to go back to his friend’s home because his mother was there alone. I did my best to convince them to wait it out, to only leave when there was light, because it was too dangerous outside. They declined, but I persisted. Thankfully, they eventually listened to me and decided to stay at the hotel.
At one point, somebody came to the hotel to announce that a tsunami was coming. I told the rest of the guests that it was impossible, as there was no earthquake coming. And even if a tsunami did come, we could just rush upstairs. The last thing we needed was people panicking!
Scrounging for Food
Morning came. I went to the first floor to check on how things were going. ChinChin was holding a plate of cooked bangus (fish). One of the American guests was able to get his hands on double-dead fish (the supplies in the hotel were submerged in water) and had the staff cook it for him. He got some for himself and asked ChinChin to offer the rest to the other guests. I smelled the fish to test if it’s still safe to eat. Trusting my sensitive nose, I decided it was ok. I ran up to the fourth floor to have my cousin eat with us. I instructed her to eat as much as she could because there’s no telling when we’d run out of food. As much as possible, we were not to touch the food we still had in our room. Even ChinChin ate the double dead fish.
I got information that Hayward, one of the smaller grocery stores at the downtown area, was still selling stuff. I walked toward the store. When I got near it, I had to stop on del Pilar street. People were running out of 578 (a mall). I asked an old woman what the commotion was about. She said that while the people were looting, the owners were actually inside the mall. And that they started reacting when people tried to go to the second floor. Hayward was just a little farther away. I found that the store was actually closed. It had started to rain so I decided to walk right back to the hotel.
Back at the hotel, I informed ChinChin that Hayward was closed after all. She asked me which Hayward I was referring to. It turned out there was another Hayward and that it was farther away, along Paterno street. I went up to the fourth floor, instructed my cousin to go to the first floor with her tablet and wait for me there. I felt it was safer for her on the first floor. Chinchin and the staff were there. It had gotten very dark on the upper floors. I left with a flashlight, which was made of what seemed to be heavy metal. The only weapon I could get my hands on at the time.
I walked toward Hayward, asking people for directions. I walked past a bunch of people whom I knew by face. I started to realize that one of them was from V&G and knew my uncle. I walked right back then asked, “Ken? You’re Ken Marshall, right?” He recognized me right away. I asked for any news about my uncle and for the conditions back home. I was very relieved to find out that my uncle, aunt, and cousin had made it safely home and were trying to find ways to get back to the hotel. I found out that my uncle’s place had lost its roof, and that the place I was renting a room at was not looking any better. Ken asked me where I was headed. I told him I was looking for food. He offered a canned food (I did not know what it was. It was obviously imported.) I refused but he insisted. Grateful for the kindness, I accepted.
I successfully found my way to Hayward. It was open, but all they had left to sell were bottles and cans of juice, bottles of soya milk, and nuts in tetra packs. They had their gates closed and were selling items through a table lodged behind the iron rails. I opted not to buy the soya milk (although it was my favorite, a drink I normally have daily), because we no longer had water supply and the last thing I needed was anything that would make me want to defecate.
People were not allowed to purchase more than ten items because they were trying to avoid people who would only resell them. I talked my way into buying a box of items though. I bought tons of bottled and canned juices, and all the nuts. I figured once we run out of food, we could live by the nuts alone.
I walked back to the hotel with a heavy box. I had to stop after two blocks. Tried another block but started to feel like I was dispelling too much of my needed strength. I stopped to observe the demeanor of people around me. I found two young men who did not appear too menacing. I asked one of them if he would be willing to carry the box to La Rica hotel for a fee. He consented. I ran the risk of having my goods stolen but I figured, "What the heck, I get tired too."
While taking one of my stops, I noticed two young girls beside me who had looted items with them. People were stopping by asking to have some of the stuff they had. They refused. I saw that they had cottons with them. I asked if I could purchase one. They offered to give it to me for free. They asked me why I was alone, seemingly disturbed by the idea. I was touched by the kindness and concern.
Upon arriving at the hotel, I was delightfully surprised to find that my uncle and my cousin were back. Two of my cousin’s male friends tagged along. My uncle was able to borrow a bicycle, while the other three walked along with him. He explained to me that we needed to leave the hotel right away. That it didn’t feel safe there anymore. That we could just stay at the store in front of their home, that the place was still intact and that it had a bathroom. I had to think about it. I knew that if we left the hotel, somebody else would take the room we were occupying. Even as I was pondering my options, ChinChin informed me that another storm was coming in three days. My uncle kept trying to convince me though, explaining that we didn’t know the area. That we didn’t know what people in the area were capable of. He explained that at least back home, we knew the people and we could figure out where to get water and stuff. Remembering the threat of fire the night before and our room which was starting to smell of pee (because of the bathroom and the absence of water supply), I consented. I could not fathom the idea of living in a room that smelled of pee (weirdly enough, it was the biggest winning point for me).
We started to walk back home. My cousin’s friends proved helpful. I bought two five-liter gallons of water before the typhoon, plus the stuff I bought from Hayward, and our numerous other things. They helped ease the burden. It was a long way to our home in V&G.
There were numerous debris along the way, plus several dead bodies. Surprisingly, I did not feel a thing. Even as the devastation to my city was starting to get clearer, I did not feel a thing. For people who know me, this should be surprising. I cannot stand seeing a man getting wounded, but I was able to stare at dead bodies without feeling a thing. I must have been on survival mode. My psychological immune system on full alert.
We finally made it to the store that was to serve as our shelter. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was in good shape, and that my aunt was able to do some cleaning. I was filled with such joy to find that it was very livable. It had a sink and a bathroom that were clean, and a bed that we could all fit in (albeit no foam on it). Also, one of my uncles who was in Manila when the typhoon came had a little store with a few canned goods, bottled waters, soda, and even alcoholic drinks in it. We had enough food and beverages to last for several days!
I went to check on the room I was renting. It was located one block from my uncle’s place. I learned that although my room was on the second floor, the water had reached knee-high (water came dripping in). The room next to mine had lost its roof and door. Although my roof and door were still intact, my room was not spared the flood. Before the typhoon came, I tied my closet with a satin scarf, and wrapped my favorite books with a cellophane.
I was expecting the worst. After all, my room got flooded. My housemates were giving me instructions on how to deal with my wet clothes. Then told me to bring them to the laundry station (Obviously, they have yet to understand just what state our city was in.) Much to my pleasant surprise (I was screaming with glee), the satin scarf successfully guarded my much-loved clothes. Everything in it was super dry. Even the books I wrapped with cellophane and placed under the bed (they were surely submerged in water) were super dry! It was all I could ask for.
The store we found refuge in is located in the area’s commercial hub. Right across the street is Wilmar’s, a landmark and the major grocery store in the V&G area. The owner had his people armed with long-bladed knives and guns. They stood guard to the store. I heard people laughing while talking about the policeman guarding the grocery store at night, looking pale and nervous, even with his gun in hand. Thankfully, the store was never looted at all. No store in our area was looted. The following day, Wilmar’s started selling its items. But just like Hayward they did not let people into the store. They had a very small opening at the front. They asked people to form a line, list down the items they wanted to purchase on a piece of paper, have the paper submitted, then wait until their names were called. Along with neighbors, Filipino friends, and American office mates (from the nearby office), I waited for my name to be called out. Soon the line was broken and people crowded in front of the store. The weather alternated between drizzling and scorching hot. I noticed one of the men behind me complaining out loud and slowly losing his patience. I started remembering the stampede that happened in Cebu just recently and asked my friends to come with me and go farther out so we were not squeezed in by the crowd (plus I saw his tattoo that indicated he was an ex-con!). We were forced to dip our feet in flood again. Eventually, I heard my name called, paid my dues, then brought my goodies home. The Americans I was with weren’t as lucky. They waited longer only to end up not being called at all. They lost patience and just left.
The store selling rice and feeds eventually opened too, but allowed each household to buy only a maximum of five kilos of rice. Soon there was a long queue along a nearby drugstore too.
The office I am working at, GapLabs Philippines, is a few steps away from our place of refuge. They had office mates and relatives taking refuge in the building. They had to divide resources among fifty people. The place was still flooded (knee-high), and wreaked of human feces. They started to list down the food they had left, and rationed them among themselves. The one time I went there, the Americans were eating cereal for lunch. The next time I went there everybody was having rice and noodles for dinner. They gave me a bowl of rice and soup from the noodles (I arrived late and there was hardly anything left). That was the first time I ever ate rice with just soup on it, because that is the very type of ensemble that would make me want to puke. I ate it anyway because I liked the idea that I would not have to eat at my uncle’s place, leaving more food for them. Noticing that I was having trouble eating my food, my boss’ son offered their hot sauce, saying that it would make the food taste better.
We were lucky to have food then. But not everyone was as lucky. One of my dear friends, Daniz, came to visit the office, passing along my uncle’s place. I called out to her and asked how she was. I told her I was so worried about her and was inquiring to people about her whereabouts. Still retaining the usual wicked sense of humor we hurl at each other she said, “Sowsss… You are only saying that because I am standing in front of you. I’m sure you did not miss me at all.” Looking at her, she looked like her usual self. Composed and neat. No sign of distress at all. If she hadn’t told me, I would not have guessed. The water at her home had reached levels higher than people’s heights. She was at home with three other people who were elderly (one was blind). They had to stand on a sink to spare their lives. She lost everything. She was left with no money, no food. They lost the roof of their home, and had nowhere else to go. They had to spend the night under an umbrella.
My friend, Daniz, showed exemplary strength and remained admirably dignified through it all. She said that even if it means going hungry, she would never go looting.
One of our office mates, Ryan, gave her cash. She told him that she had no choice but to accept, given the circumstances. I gave her cash too and a couple of canned goods and biscuits. Obviously touched by the gesture she said, “Even after everything that happened, this is the first time that I am going to cry.” Then she gave me a hug. She placed the goods in her bag and went to our office, with her eyes already wet from tears.
The following day. . while walking to my rented room, I bumped into a friend who was frantically looking for a gallon of Wilkin’s water. He said that his baby needed it, and that his baby was having diarrhea with just ordinary water. He said that he desperately needed the water and would go robbing people if that’s what it would take. Thinking I might still have the gallon of water I bought before the typhoon, I asked him to come with me to my uncle’s store. Unfortunately, we no longer had it. My uncle had mixed the water with ordinary water, in a much bigger gallon.
My cousin’s friend told us about his mother who saw their neighbor carrying around two tanks of gas (for cooking stove). His mother offered PHP1000 for one tank (normally priced at PHP800). The neighbor shrugged it off immediately. Then his mother offered a gallon of distilled water (normally priced at PHP40). The neighbor agreed to the trade without thinking twice. Our city had regressed back to a barter system.
Escape to Manila
I was desperate to find a way to contact my family in Manila. When a helicopter flew by, I fruitlessly waved at it. My cousin laughed and asked why I did that. I told her that they could be the media, and they might take a photo of us, and my family just might see it and be assured that I was alive.
I learned at our office that there were people finding ways to get out of our city. Eager to help our company resume its operations and to let my family know that I was fine, I took my chances. It was not without risks, plus a part of me did not want to leave people behind. But my intuition told me that I had to do it.
A former officemate offered to have three people from our office take the C130 military plane to Manila with her (she now works for the government). She was only allowed to take three people with her. My American officemates made it to the list for the Monday flight (three days after the landfall). My boss offered that I go on the Wednesday flight. My manager suggested that I take my chances though. And took my chances I did. It was not without risks. My boss could only take all of us to the airport, and not back. If I could not get into the plane, I would have to take the trip back home alone, which could be very risky considering that there wasn’t any public transportation available. Luckily though my cousin from a town that was a three-hour drive from our city suddenly showed up that night. He said he went to a remote area where he hoped he could catch a signal and got messages from my family in Manila asking that he go check on me. I had someone to take me to the airport, and he came just in time!
My cousin took his motorcycle to Tacloban, but had only enough gasoline to return back home. Gasoline was very hard to get by at the time. Luckily, my manager was able to lend us his motorcycle. My cousin took me to the airport. When we arrived at the airport, I was surprised to see a military man approach me. He was a close friend from college (a brod from my fraternity)! I was so happy to see him that I tried to hug me. He refused because his uniform was wet. He was not his usual warm self. I asked how he was and found out that their home was smashed into pieces by a huge water tank, and that his mother had broken ribs. He had his whole family with him, and the de Veyra family (whom I’m not related to but are also close friends from college, two of which were a brod and sis from our fraternity).
I was able to get into the airport with the help of my brod. With his mother and sister in bad condition, they were in a hurry. They boarded the plane as fast as they could. I stayed behind, in spite of their constant prodding, because my stuff had yet to arrive. I left my bag in my boss’ car, who had yet to arrive at the airport because he was waiting for the American volunteers he was taking to the airport. I went right back outside to find that my boss had not yet arrived and my cousin had left. With nerves threatening to creep in, I waited for my boss. I noticed one of the hotel guests who helped out with the rescue efforts was among the people taking the queue to get into the C130. I went to check on him. He was trying to get back home to Manila, but had been waiting for two nights at the airport. . with no roof and no food or water (I was able to find him on Facebook when I was in Manila and found out that he waited at the queue for three days and three nights).
When my boss finally arrived, I grabbed my bags and tried to get back into the airport. My brods were not there anymore. I pleaded with the military man on guard to let me in. He looked at me with concern, but also with an expression that told me that he could not grant my request. After a moment he just looked away with an apologetic stance. At just about the same time, another military man who looked like he was of a higher rank exclaimed, “Papasukin na yan! (Just let her in!)” I ran inside. When I got in, I took another queue and worriedly looked around me as I noticed that I was the only one who was not holding a brown paper (the pass). I later realized that the queue was Mactan-bound. I left and looked for the one bound for Manila. Another passenger approached me and helped me find the right queue. While at the queue, I worriedly waited as the military man collected people’s passes. While mentally preparing what to say to him, I was shocked to see that when my turn came the military man asked the people behind me instead. I wondered if he got distracted or if he did it on purpose.
When I was finally in the safety of the C130 military plane, I let it all sink in. The devastation. The horror. The dangers. And that’s when I started to worry so much about the people I left behind. A surge of guilt started rushing in. Tears went falling uncontrollably that I had to cover my face.
I made it to Manila safely. My former officemate had someone pick us up from the airport. She instructed the driver to take me to a location where I could take a cab. The driver offered to take me straight home though after he brought my officemates to their destination. I got home to a very shocked but very relieved family. My mother gave me a tight hug and burst into tears. She cried like I never heard her cry before, like she was finally relieved of a great deal of pain. I later found out that she had not been eating, and that my father had been having bad spouts of high blood pressure. I also found out that two of my sisters and my brother were about to leave for Tacloban to get me. I made the right decision leaving Tacloban as soon as I got the chance. One thing I was very grateful for throughout the Yolanda ordeal was that my immediate family was safe in Manila. If I didn’t make it to Manila when I did, they would have made the dangerous trip to Tacloban! The days following the landfall of Yolanda proved to be devastating, sometimes even worse than the actual day of disaster itself.
The first few nights I spent in Manila after Yolanda was very difficult. I finally allowed myself to digest what had happened in Tacloban. I was in a bad shape. Once, my mother found me bursting into violent tears because I was very worried for the people back in Tacloban. There was no signal in Tacloban just yet, and we had no idea what was happening in the city. I knew how people were very vulnerable back in Tacloban. I knew how it had become virtually lawless. I saw how it would go pitch black at night, with the absence of electricity, candles, and only very few flashlights still working. Once my officemates and I braved the night to check if the foreign volunteers were okay. It was so dark. It was just plain dangerous outside, I had to carry a knife with me.
My worries worsened when we received messages about people being attacked in their homes. We went as far as contacting the military and the media, and have them check our home and the office in Tacloban to make sure that we could do what we could to ensure that nobody is hurt.
Luckily I found myself recovering as the days passed. I was especially relieved when the cellphone signal was back again, and we were finally kept updated of the things happening in Tacloban.
What I thought was just a product of my silly imagination actually happened to some of my fellow Taclobanons. I later heard of a friend who had to swim in the deep flood waters, with rats catching up with her. And I heard an account of someone witnessing the storm surge coming. It came as a wave that was higher than the coconut trees. It came swiftly, and it struck twice.
A Story of Miracles (or Luck?)
While in Manila, after having had finished packing relief goods for people back in Tacloban, my brods (from my fraternity) and I sat down for our Johnnie Walker session (an occasional treat!). I recounted my experience with Yolanda. Next thing I knew, they were asking me to hold their hands and their wallets. They said I was way too lucky. . pointing to getting that hotel room, my dry clothes and books, picking up just the medicines I needed right off the rubble, having plenty of food to leave behind, being able to leave Tacloban way too easily (I later found out that it was very difficult for most people to leave), etc. One of my brods later told me on a more serious note that there was a message there for me. He said it could be from God, it could be from the universe, it could be from anywhere, but there was surely a message. What that message is, I may never know for sure.