Leyte, Philippines: Tales of Woes and Heroism
I woke up today at 2:30 in the morning. Listening to the rhythm of the pouring rain, thoughts of the horrifying event caused by the killer typhoon Yolanda capsulated my being. My tears fell like rain as I recollect survivor’s stories of grief and lamentations especially of death and survival aired in televisions and published in newspapers. It was a heroic deed for those who saved other lives while sacrificing their own. It was tragedy for those who lost their loves ones.
The provinces of Leyte, Samar and Tacloban City in the island of Visayas were the first victims of Typhoon Yolanda’s fury before it hit our place in Estancia, Iloilo. The province of Leyte and Tacloban City are close to my heart. I toured Tacloban City and Leyte in April of this year during the electoral campaign. I had been in all those towns that were hard hit by Typhoon Yolanda and I was worried about them on the day Typhoon Yolanda struck.
In the morning of November 8, I was monitoring the television when Typhoon Yolanda first struck Tacloban City. Atom Araullo of ABS-CBN television network was the one covering the news. In a few minutes, I saw how the winds strongly hit the place, breaking crystals of the buildings and blowing hard trees, power lines and other structures.
It made me shivered with fear for in due time the worst thing will possibly happen to us. I was thinking of my husband and our family there in Estancia. There was black out all over the place in Iloilo City and all communication lines were cut off from the hard-hit areas hours before the typhoon hit Estancia and other northern towns of Iloilo. I was blinded about what’s going on in that crucial moment.
In the morning of November 9, Jasper my friend from Tanauan, Leyte was the first one who called me. He was calling from Manila asking me how to get assistance from my colleagues based in Manila for he will fly to Tacloban City taking the C-130 bringing emergency relief goods to his place in Tanauan, Leyte.
At that time, I never thought how devastated the places that Typhoon Yolanda hit. I thought of typhoon victims evacuating, needing emergency food packs and damaging houses. But I was wrong! It’s the worst of its kind.
I gave Jasper the contact numbers of my Gabriela women colleagues in Manila. After that, I heard no news from him anymore. I couldn’t contact him anymore and my other friends in Tacloban City. All their numbers were out of coverage area.
I only knew how devastated the places in Tacloban and Leyte two days after the typhoon when power was restored. Devastating stories of survivors were disheartening in these hard hit areas of the country. Newspapers told us that Leyte have 3,310 casualties, the highest among the 5,235 casualties all over the country. Tanauan and Tacloban City got the highest casualties in the hard hit areas of Leyte as of November 23. It’s a no man’s land anymore. It’s inhabitable. There is a continuing exodus.
Tanauan, Leyte was the place I stayed during my tour last April. I stayed for two nights with Jasper's family. He was running for Tanauan municipal councilor at that time. Unfortunately he lose during the election because he did not engage into vote buying. I remember the night when Jasper's Mom told me that they went back home in Tanauan from Manila because all their livelihood and their house was devastated by Typhoon Ondoy that struck Manila in 2010. In 2011, they went back home in Tanauan , their native home to start all over again.
And now, once again Jasper's family and her Mom were victimized by another killer typhoon kneeling them down at ground zero. My heart bleeds just I felt the pain of being a victim and a survivor of both Typhoon Frank flashflood in 2008 that washed out all our belongings , our home and our livelihood. Again today, we'll start all over again just like Jasper and other survivors.
My husband’s devastating story was the first survivor’s story I personally heard after the typhoon. Days later more stories came out. I sadly watched faces of mother crying hysterically losing her two young children during the storm surge. Stories of young people bravely saving families during the storm surge.
Story of a Child: Mary Jane
I read the story of 13 year- old girl named Mary Jane from Tacloban City who said, “If it was not of my father, we were all dead”.
I was not able to hold back my tears while reading her story. Her father saved them from the horror of death.
“I called out to him when I felt I couldn’t keep us alive anymore. I was weak from holding up my brother above the water. I was almost drowning,” Mary Jane said.
She said she and Jonathan junior were the last ones their father was trying to save when the tin roof hit them. The impact almost knocked her unconscious and wounded her brother Jonathan on the head. Jonathan junior sustained shallow cuts and bruises but survived.
But the metal sheet’s edge struck their father in the neck, she said.
“We found him later on a piece of plywood near our house,” Mary Jane said.
Holding back tears, she recounted how he took a deep breath and looked at all of them before closing his eyes.
“We knew he was dead,” she said.
Mary Jane’s mother is pregnant and was able to swim her three children ages 9, 5, and 2 years old. She couldn’t believe she was able to swim and save her children.
Story of a Woman: Susan
I was in Guiuan, Leyte last April during my tour. It was a small town and it was one of the dangerous places in Leyte talking about human right abuses committed by military. I have my own horrific story about my visit there. But what touches me most is the typhoon survivor’s story I’ve read in the Philippine Daily Inquirer of a woman named Susan Tan who owned a grocery store.
Susan voluntary donated three trucks of goods day after the typhoon to the municipal government for the victims. After days of the absence of relief assistance from the government, the survivors were desperate resulting to loot her grocery store warehouse.
Susan turned emotional recounting an encounter with one looter.
“I was standing behind her back. She was sitting there, tired from the looting,” she said.
“She saw me and said: ‘Thank you.’
“I almost cried.”
When the looter told her it was the birthday of her child, she found herself telling her, “You get some more.”
Susan blamed the slow government response for the looting.
“People panicked. They thought no relief was coming. There was no single word from the government,” she said.
Had the people been assured that assistance was forthcoming; they would not have dared resort to looting. She did not take it against the looters but instead pinned the blame on the government’s slow response to the worst disaster ever to hit Guiuan, site of a US-built air and naval base from where US Gen. Douglas MacArthur launched the allied offensive against the Japanese in the final stages of World War II.
She said helping her fellow Guiuanons helped her regain her sanity after the typhoon.
More Stories to Tell:
I had goose bumps reading survivor’s stories. I’m sure there are more stories of survivor women and children that will make us cry. More tears will fall from our eyes but tears from the survivors’ eyes are beyond how we feel every time we knew their stories.
In my cell phone book directory, I have many names of people in Leyte and Tacloban I met during my visit in April. I don’t know if they survived the wrath but I’m sure they have their own heart breaking stories to tell or somebody will tell stories about them.
I hope to visit Tacloban City and Samar one day and personally listen to my friends' stories and share a smile of hope even just for a moment.