I was roused by the pounding of heavy rain, the heavy blowing of wind, and the darkness that seemed to have enveloped me in my room. I have silently mumbled, “This is it, the super typhoon has really come.” I then uttered my silent prayer.
Another thing immediately came to my mind: my sisters. I entrusted them to a friend as I was called for duty yesterday, we are on full alert. Are they safe? Could they be protected by the shelter of a friend from harm?
I then went upstairs to assess the extent of this typhoon’s strength, and what unfolded before my eyes gave me the sense of doom. The roof of a two-story house was slowly giving away; the trees were swayed back and forth until they were almost uprooted; the smaller houses were getting battered. But more than all these, I knew the people in their houses are the ones suffering the most, if not physically, then psychologically. We could only hope for this landfall to stop as soon as possible.
But it seemed like the typhoon was unstoppable. Those few hours of its landfall felt like an eternity. It took more than 2 hours before it finally left us, bared and vulnerable.
True to its promise of ferocity, typhoon Yolanda shattered our station, leaving only the main office untouched. When I looked at the surroundings, I've seen more destruction I have never seen before. Houses, roofs, trees, they’re all damaged. But we had to move on and fulfill our duty. We went on with the clearing of the debris on the roads. As soon as we were totally clear of the furious typhoon, the people started doing the same. I saw their frustration, the disappointment, the feeling of loss. But despite that, I also saw their willingness to move ahead.
Once the full alert status was lifted, I immediately hurried home. I was almost certain our house is in terrible shape. And I was right.
Seeing the house where I've grown up torn into pieces broke my heart. I knew this was gonna happen, but it still feels different when you see it for yourself. All the memories, both happy and sad were there. The once complete and happy family, my childhood years, my accomplishments and failures, seemed to have gone with the house. Both I and my sisters were dispirited and feeling discouraged. Good thing we were still fortunate to have a place to stay, the convent. I couldn't imagine how the other people were coping.
Two days after, just as we were settling with our temporary shelter, I received another notice: to report at the Regional Office for the search and rescue of the typhoon victims. According to the reports, thousands were dead, missing, and injured.
At 4:00 PM on Sunday, we set out to Tacloban, bringing with us the courage and desire to extend our services to those in need.
But 5 kilometers before reaching our destination, we were confronted with a heavy traffic. Electric posts and uprooted trees blocked the roads ahead. So, we didn't have any option but to continue the rest of the journey on foot.
"Aaaaahhhhhhh!", one of my colleagues screamed. We were freaked out because it was getting late and darker on the streets, it was 7 PM. We hurried to her and asked what happened. And was even more freaked out as she told us that she almost stepped on a dead body! A decaying body on the street at that! What more could we see at the area that was hit the hardest? We better brace our selves.
With only 1 kilometer left, we were getting high hopes. And, as if heard by heavens, we saw firemen trying to put out a fire at an empty department store. They immediately let us ride with them and told us that some people were trying to set fires because of their frustrations and some were just taking advantage of the city's bad shape.
Trudging along the heart of the city, I came to understand how lucky I am for the mere fact that I'm alive and breathing. Decaying bodies were lying along the roads. Although I can't see them clearly, I can distinguish the outline of their bodies. Knees bent, hands that still seems to reach out at something, a clear indication that until their last breath, they were trying to cling to safety.
Upon reaching our headquarters at the Regional Office, the other personnel asked us, "Did you bring water?". No, sir. "Did you bring noodles?" No, sir. "Did you bring any food with you?" No, sir.
"So, what do you have with you then?" they asked. "Only our uniforms sir, as we were told," we answered. "Holy cow! We don't have any food left here, no water. Everything in the stores were looted by the people, everything is scarce here, you should have brought food with you. Your money don't have a value as of this moment," they told us.
We were not aware of the degree of the situation because we couldn't watch television or listen to radios, we still don't have any electrical connection. As a result, we didn't have anything to eat for dinner. We went to sleep on an uncomfortable room, with no beds and only chairs to sit on.
Morning came and we still don't have any food to eat. But that doesn't even equate to how the people of this city are feeling. I've heard more stories of pain and grief, and seen the place more clearly. Some families have only 1 member left, some were still looking for their missing relatives, some were wounded. But one thing that broke my heart was when I heard of a fire woman on duty during the typhoon and was trying to save other people while leaving her children behind with their grandmother. When she came home after her duty, she just received the bad news. Her two daughters are gone. Gone with the typhoon. Their grandmother wasn't able to protect them. I couldn't imagine the heartache of that loss.
I've seen and heard more and more painful stories, I've counted the increasing death toll day by day myself as I was assigned at the Operations Area.
But I've also seen how the people were smiling and coping in spite of everything, how they have become stronger after the trials.
When we were finally allowed to go home after a week, I saw a child on the streets scavenging for food. When he looked up, he saw us and waved his hands, and then he gave us that big smile. I saw something beyond that boy, I saw a child growing into a stronger person, and being a part of a stronger nation.
And then I thought to myself, "someday, I'm going to tell the world this story."