On our way to Tacloban City on November 7, 2013 from Catarman, I told Kuya Emmanuel [country manager] it was my first time to be in the place and it was also my childhood dream to be able to visit the longest bridge (San Juanico Bridge) in the whole Philippines. When we are so close with the bridge, we were talking that if in case we will not find a pension house to stay; we will just stay in a 24 hours Jollibee and order my favorite palabok (small strand of pasta with a yellow sauce, dried shrimps, popped port fats and small amount of meat) which I offer to eat per strand until the following day. We just laugh for we knew it will never happen.
When we arrived in the city proper, we walked from one street to another to find a place to stay. Unfortunately, all are fully-booked. On the ninth hotel we went, though they are also fully-booked, the security guard told us to go Casa Anson and even called a tricycle to bring us to the place.
Emmanuel inquired in the front desk while I am still in the tricycle. I got the chance to have a short talk with the driver which I forget to ask his name. He is a tricycle driver for seven years now and has two daughters both are working in Sacred Heart Hospital in Tacloban City as a nurse. The driver say goodbye after he is sure that we have a place to stay. We thank him for the good deeds he did to us. We got our room at 11:00 PM.
During that night, I wasn’t able to sleep not because of the noisy sound coming from the roof since we are in the 4th floor but because I am trying to picture out the worst possible scenario that will happen the following day and the possible strategies that I will might be doing in case. I received a txt message from my mother at 12 midnight saying that the typhoon will land in Tacloban at 4:00 AM.
I was lying in my bed listening to a local radio on the updates until 3:00 am. I went out to the room just to check the weather and notice that there is already wind blowing slowly. I went back to the room to prepare myself and my things.
At 5:30 AM on November 8, 2013, I called my mother in Dumaguete City to inform them that we are in the safe place. I can feel and sense that my mother is too worried about our situation but try her best to hide her emotions as much as possible and possibly her tears started to fall-down. I assured her that I will never die in a disaster situation for I know my God is Greater than any disaster the world could ever have and promise to communicate her often as possible. During this time, the wind blows harder and started raining. The roof and ceiling started shaking and the glass window too.
At first, I have the hesitation to wake-up Emmanuel for I knew he was so tired. But the wind blows even harder, so I decided to wake-up him, so he can prepared his things and move to other safer place. We stayed for awhile outside the room, suddenly we hear a bang sound and we notice that there is water coming out from the room where we came from. We decided to go down in the first floor passing by broken glass from the window, falling debris and slippery floor.
When we were in the first floor, we saw how the tricycle rollaway 360 degrees, cars and vans moving fast from where they are park with no driver on it.
We hurriedly look for a vacant room in the first floor where we can hide together with the security guard of the hotel. When we were in the room, the guard told me there is small water coming slowly in the hotel. When we went out, I saw the water hurriedly entering the first floor like a one-foot wave. Emmanuel and I knocked hardly all the rooms in the 1st floor as fast as we could to save other guest before running to the 2nd floor. Before when knew it, there were almost a hundred people staying in the 1st floor mostly children, sick and elderly. When all the guests were on the 2nd floor, in less than 5 minutes, the whole 1st floor is filled with water. We moved to the 3rd floor as the water keep on rising.
When we were in the 3rd floor, guests from the 4th floor were also rushing to go down since all the rooms are already destroyed.
While Emmanuel is monitoring the water continuously rising, I had the opportunity to guide other guests to enter the function room. I notice that there are more children and elderly in the room compared to the adults. I met Bernard who is so terribly scared with the situation and never live my back while I’m busy touching the head of the children and elderly ensuring them that we are safe as they enter the room. Like us, he just visited the place for work-related purposes.
When the water goes down slowly for a meter, Emmanuel joined us. We got the chance to talk about the situation. He was asking what did I observed, I simply answered; we are out number by the children, sick people and elderly. Even if we will carry one child or elderly in case the water will rise again, the number of adults is not enough.
As I glance at Emmanuel, I saw his eyes are getting red. I asked him if he was crying. He smiled at me and said, he just having a running noise because of the weather. I just nodded and smile for I knew that Emmanuel is not telling the truth to me for the first time since I join him in Children of the Mekong Philippines national office last October 2013. I understand him for I knew that he don’t want me to worry much.
Before we knew it, it was already 3:00 PM and we haven’t eat our breakfast and lunch. Other people were already eating their meals. Emmanuel, Bernard and I were just setting down in one place for we don’t have anything to eat. All I have is a less than 500 ml water that I brought from Catarman Center which we shared by the three of us. Suddenly, Loreta is bringing her 9 months old daughter and joined us. She shared how scared she was when all the rooms in 4th floor are destroyed. She offered us one small pack of biscuits which we divided among ourselves.
After a while, saw a man bringing many junk foods. Emmanuel expressed that he wanted to eat Piattos and ask where he possible can have it. He decided to go down in the first floor since the water already subsided. After 20 minutes, Emmanuel went back and brought us three packs of junk foods including Piattos. The packs were coated with mad and we clean it using the water from the rain. We enjoyed eating and sharing it with Loreta and her family as if it was coming from the grocery. We are thankful that despite the situation, we were able to eat and share what we have.
It was almost evening when one child almost seven years old asked me if I could help her to look for her favorite toys which she left it in the dark place at the 3rd floor. I was able to find it and gave it to her. She thanks me for what I did in saving her life and her favorite toys. I’m confused of what she was saying. She told me that she was the same girl whom I went back to carried to the 2nd floor when I saw her crying in the first floor upon seeing that the water was already in her knee when she was looking for her family and could no longer see them. I just smile and hug her and told her to be nice to all the people she will meet in life. I went in the dark room and cried for the first time since the disaster happened.
When I joined Bernard, I saw him crying with a plate in his hand half-filled with rice and ¼ can of sardine sauce. He told me that a girl who approached me earlier is also the one telling him that she saw the three of us haven’t eat our lunch and dinner yet and instructed him to get some food which her family prepared before the typhoon. The three of us happily shared the meal.
At around 8:00 PM, Emmanuel was asking me if there is possibility that we can reach Cebu on Sunday. I told him directly that I don’t have doubts that tomorrow afternoon we will be in Cebu by all means. He just nodded and asked how. I told him that we will go to the airport and wait until there is flight going to Cebu. Bernard told us that the airport is totally devastated and suggested to stay since we are safe in the hotel.
I informed Emmanuel it is a protocol that within 24 hours relief goods should be airlifted to the area. We both agreed that we will go to the airport the following day. Before I slept, I look at the sky and saw few starts while looking for a song that fit our experience and found the song “The Journey” by Lea Salonga. Looking for a song is my way of putting closure on the unusual experience I had. I went to sleep for three hours in preparation of our long hours walk for surely I will be catching up the steps of Emmanuel.
At around 5:00 AM on November 9, 2013, Loreta invited us to come to the office of his husband so we can eat and do personal thing. We left Casa Anson at 5:30 AM leaving all the fears for we knew we will be seeing the real and true meaning of catastrophe and devastation.
Along our way to the office, we seen school, houses, buildings and establishment totally destroyed. Many people are trying to enter the groceries store to get some food. When we arrived in the office, a nearby salon invited us to eat with them for they found a big freezer with full of frozen food on it which they can probably consume three or more weeks.
After the breakfast, the husband of Loreta decided to go to the big mall to get some food which Emmanuel volunteered to join him. They arrived at around 8:15 AM with so many foods. He decide to just bring with us six cans of pineapple juice and small container of biscuit for our trip and left other goods to the family of Loreta. We thank the family for accommodating us and we did not commit verbally to help them but deep in our hearts we want to help them and the people in Tacloban City.
At 8:30 AM the three of us started walking and facing the real scenario. All the hotels that Emmanuel and I went a night before the typhoon are all destroyed and many are wounded. Houses that are made with light materials are vanished in the map of the city. Concrete houses are totally destroyed living just post and few debris and even the big establishment are not spared of it.
As we walk, we saw families looking for food while others are looking for their family members. Establishment were forcedly open hoping that there might be something to eat.
Hospitals are totally damage, pharmacies are lack of medicine and even medical practitioners are wounded. We saw the astrodome were most of the people evacuated a day before the typhoon housing 2,000 or more. The water level reaches almost half of the height of the astrodome. Emmanuel walk few steps ahead of us, each time he saw dead bodies lying on the street, he would instruct us not to turn our head to that direction. I simply hold his backpack and continue walking while looking back to that direction, starring and counting how many dead bodies I saw. In total, I counted 60 dead people mostly children before we reach the Coca Cola Bottling Company. I stop counting when we pass by a place where water is one-foot high and no more structure standing not even a single electric post. A passers by simply told us that it used to be a community with many people living and they don’t have ideas if all of them went to the evacuation center.
As we are heading to Coca Cola, the water did not subside yet and still until one-foot. Even though there is still water on the road, I saw countless broken bottles scattered everywhere from the company and San Miguel Corporation in which we might not be exempted to get wounded if we will not be watchful.
On our way to Barangay San Jose which is said to be the most affected areas in Tacloban, we saw the backhoe cleaning the streets to somehow the military cars can pass by and we were able to go ahead of the backhoe. It came to our information that Barangay San Jose is categorizes as a barangay for rich and wealthy people of Tacloban. It used to have mansions and concrete houses but to our surprise, the entire houses are dilapidated and no longer safe to stay.
We have to climb in a toppled electric post and trees, tangled cable wires, debris and others just to pursue our way.
As we are already few kilometers away from the airport, we were asking the people for the direction when suddenly a C130 plane passes by. We walk as fast as we could to reach the airport. Our arrival to the airport was so timely when the soldiers are done hauling all the goods from C130. They just simply check our bags, listed our names and we belong to the first 30 none wounded survivors who are airlifted to Cebu airbase at 10:55 AM. We landed safely in Cebu at 11:33 AM on November 9, 2013.
With the two days experience in Tacloban during the super typhoon Haiyan as a victim’s survivor what else can we not surpass as an EdM Philippines national team? Emmanuel and I knew that in some points in our life we become victims of catastrophe and yet we chose to become b ave enough to face the challenges and to do our best to help others as what Children of the Mekong taught us when we accept to do the mission.