JAIME CONSTANTINO: MY TYPHOON YOLANDA SURVIVAL STORY
MANILA, NOVEMBER 18, 2013 (MANILA STANDARD) By Jaime Constantino - I survived typhoon Yolanda. I choose to write this to purge myself of what I experienced, however mundane my experience is compared to the rest.
I am an employee of Procter and Gamble and have been assigned to Tacloban since July this year. Days before Yolanda was expected to hit, my dad had been e-mailing me warnings about how strong the typhoon was going to be. These warnings went unnoticed until he called me at 3PM on Thursday. Only then did I remembered to buy supplies in preparation for the super typhoon. I charged all my electronics and battery packs, and then fell asleep to MTV.
I woke up at 4:30 Friday morning to loud winds tearing the roof. I told myself it would pass, and I read a book to try and fall asleep again. But the wind was too frightening to ignore. My ears popped from the change in the air pressure. By six o’clock, my Globe line had no signal, and I called my mom with my Smart line. I told her that the storm was forcing the water through the cracks of the door and windows, flooding my room. I reassured her that I would be okay, and that I loved them. As soon as I put the phone down, the signal went out. I looked outside my ground-floor apartment as the wind got stronger and I saw that the informal settlements around us were wiped out. The roof of the two-floor compound I was living in was flying off, and the cars shook in protest to the wind. The bolted gates flew open and some evacuees fled to our communal dining area. An hour later, my housemate banged on my door, told me to pack up my valuables, and move up to the second floor.
We stayed there until 10:30, and started to clean up as the calm eye passed over us. We assessed the light damage done to our cars and our belongings. One of my housemates apparently hid in his aparador because his windows shattered and his roof flew off. By five thirty that afternoon, four of the tenants went to explore beyond the compound. They returned four hours later with horror stories. Everywhere else was flattened, more devastated than ours. Floodwater still coated Tacloban, and downtown the dead littered the streets. People were breaking into the buildings to search for their loved ones. Rumors were flying that people broke into Robinsons, Gaisano, and other establishments for food. A fire was raging in the middle of everything.
When they finished telling the story, the barangay kapitan was yelling “TSUNAMI!” telling us to leave and head for higher ground. Outside our compound, people were panicking and fleeing to the nearby hills.
I couldn’t sleep that night. Although we’d set up a buddy system, I kept waking up hearing footsteps from beyond the compound heading toward us. I was paranoid and I didn’t trust others who weren’t from our compound. I was told later on that there were attempts to get in the compound that night. People were already desperate for food and water, and would do anything to survive.
The next day, 10 of us went out to try and get food and water from Robinsons. With more than 20 of us in the compound, we were running out of food and water. That was the reality of it. We were ready to loot the malls. I am not ashamed to admit this.
The path we took would have led us to Robinsons via Palo and Marasbaras. When we reached the highway it was clear that electricity would not be restored for months. You’ve all seen the pictures by now. Wires and posts hung ominously over the road. Trees blocked our paths. We saw three overturned trucks in a row being used as makeshift shelter. I saw a bloated dog on its side with its intestines coming out of its behind. When we turned left at the intersection, we were told to turn back because Marasbaras was impassable. Robinsons was out of the question. We decided to walk to Oriental Hotel to see the damage the storm surge had done to that area. The path was littered with rubble, wood, fallen trees, and sharp rusted nails. Then I saw it. A body was unceremoniously wrapped in a banig, and placed on the side of the road. Nobody was minding it. I’d seen dead bodies before, but never casually discarded. But we were helpless. Everywhere we looked, people were wandering. Maybe they were searching for food or shelter. Maybe they were looking for their loved ones. I saw an old couple sift through the debris perhaps in search for their belongings. I saw a teenage boy crying and shaking as he walked alone, looking for his family. I saw parents grasping hands of their children as they stood under what used to be a waiting shed.
Everywhere we went, we asked for information. We walked for hours. We were told about the current state of downtown Tacloban. People were getting more and more desperate. Innumerable dead bodies were on the streets, unclaimed. The smell was terrible.
At that point I was already desperate to get out of the city. At the very least, I needed any way to let my family know I was alive.
We listened to the radio and learned that they were reporting events one day late. The news was close to useless for us. Tacloban was reported to have been “wiped off the map.” The callous reporting hurt us.
Sunday morning, the compound woke up more determined to get food from anywhere. We still had money, so we were able to buy some canned goods and rice. We knew that eventually, money would lose its value. Our companions headed out to the city and came back with news that people were stealing more than necessities. TVs, tables, and laptops were being carried out of the malls. People seemed to be looting out of greed and desperation. We were wondering why any form relief operations were all but imperceptible. We ourselves were getting desperate.
That night, an Ormoc-based Unilab medical representative went to Tacloban to inform us that the ports in Ormoc were operational again. Five of us packed up and left first thing in the morning. We drove to Ormoc, took a slow boat to Cebu, and I flew back to Manila.
My experience is not extraordinary. My survival brings me both relief and guilt, for even the safest in Tacloban were and still are suffering. Think of those who had less to begin with. Realize that the Philippines is a country where corruption is rampant, and that the aid you’ve been sending out have most likely been filtered through the bureaucratic institutions. If you choose to help, choose the organizations wisely.
The anarchy I witnessed the few days after the disaster will turn into violence and complete chaos if the people do not receive the aid that they deserve. Any deaths now will most likely have been caused by helplessness and government inactivity. People will go insane from extreme hunger and thirst—more so if they see their loved ones, their children, going through it with them. The people of Leyte are desperate. They need action.
Jaime Constantino, 22, is an Economics-Honors graduate of Ateneo de Manila University.
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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