A Day Spent with Typhoon Haiyan Survivors

It is common knowledge that on 08 November 2013, a super typhoon–Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)–badly hit the Philippines, particularly in Tacloban, Leyte. Only a few weeks before that, our fellowmen in Bohol and Cebu were devastated by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake. On this same day, Roan and I applied for our marriage license with only a month away from our wedding. We were completely oblivious to what was going on with our fellowmen in the Visayan region until breaking news dominated local TV channels and even CNN. Amateur photos and video footage shown in between reports were heartbreaking to say the least. The weather in Manila wasn’t so good either, but it was nothing compared to what was shown in the news. We experienced 24 hours of nonstop heavy down pour and turbulent wind gusting through the branches of trees. It was frightening; we were restless.

Realizing the extent of damage caused by this unfortunate event the next morning was unimaginable. What used to be a beautiful island was turned into a barren piece of land overnight. My stomach churned at the sight of the ordeal the Typhoon Haiyan left my country. Eastern Samar, one of the damaged provinces, happens to be my father-in-law’s hometown. Roan immediately got in touch with his father in the US to find out if any of their relatives were gravely affected by such calamity. By God’s grace, no known relative was hurt nor there was horrendous damage in any of their properties.

Two weeks later, I learned from my friend, Sweet, that they accommodated a family of Typhoon Haiyan survivors. Aloy used to be the driver of Sweet’s family business for years. Aloy and his family moved back to their hometown, Tacloban, only in March 2013. Who would have thought that eight months later, a disaster would have costed them their lives.

On 28 December, the Family Life Ministry, in partnership with Couples For Christ, hosted a post-Christmas party to 100 children from less fortunate families in remote areas. When my mother learned about Aloy’s family, she invited them to partake in the event, but it wasn’t an easy call. It took Sweet a lot of convincing for them to agree to come, and we were glad that they eventually did.

Meeting Aloy’s family for the first time was overwhelming. They had three charming little girls: Kassandra (8), Karissa (5), and Kristen (3). It was evident how self-conscious and reserved both Aloy and his wife were. I wanted to make them feel comfortable in our home, so I broke the ice by asking them how they have been. Other than the trauma their family has experienced, they’re grateful and getting by. Aloy, then, began to give an account of what happened that day.

Everything happened so fast that all Aloy could think of was to get his family out and alive. Aloy was successful in moving Kassandra to his mother-in-law’s house, but on his way to take their second offspring, they were almost washed away by the storm surge. Although water began rising inside of their house, Aloy’s wife held on to their ceiling’s trusses, trying hard not to let go of her child. Seconds turned to minutes, minutes to hours. She was tired, but letting go was not an option. At the rate the water was going, Aloy thought he would never see his wife and youngest daughter again. He was wrong. When he returned to their house to confirm this, he was relieved to see that more than a couple of bruises and scratches, they were alive.

Aloy and his family, like thousands of other people in that island, were left with nothing. They relied entirely on relief goods donated by fellow countrymen and several countries from all over the world, but it wasn’t easy when there’s a plethora of mouths to feed. Imagine how limited their food intake was, mindful when their next ration will be provided. The Philippines received a tremendous humanitarian response from different nations, bringing in relief goods and offering their transport, medical services, and everything else they could be of help with.

Aloy’s family took the opportunity of flying to Manila aboard the C-130 plane lent by the US Army. My friends, Sweet and Edong, offered their house with no questions asked. They clothed and fed Aloy’s family without asking anything in return. They were willing to help them recover from the trauma inflicted by the disaster. Roan and I admired their gesture. It takes a lot of character to be selfless in this trying time. We commend our friends for their kind hearts. Surely, they will be blessed a thousand-fold more because of their generosity and hospitality.

Yesterday, we commemorated the third month since the unfortunate disaster that hit our country. Rehabilitation of damaged land is in the works. Most people are still recovering, mending broken hearts from their loss. Filipinos are known for their resiliency. How, despite the ill-fated events in their lives, Filipinos are hopeful and filled with gratitude. This will remain a mystery to some, but a miracle to many.

Seeing and reading the magnitude of all these in the news is one thing, hearing first-hand as they unfold the story behind their misery is another. It was a very humbling experience to have spent a day with them. The girls were very sweet; it was as if nothing happened. Then I realized something–their children was what kept Aloy and his wife going. Their innocent smiles and warm hugs were enough to give them strength to keep their faith alive. I refer to them as survivors rather than victims because the latter tends to produce a negative connotation in this context. They lived to tell the tale, and they now serve as a humbling example to people who remain discontented despite having all they need.

To conclude this tribute, allow me to share a snippet from a TV advertisement/campaign I saw shortly after the tragedy. It goes something like this:

Imagine losing everything that you possess including the lives of your loved ones. Imagine having to deal with the stench of thousands of dead bodies lying on the street; it gets worse by the day. You only have to imagine. They had to live through it.

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