My survival journey… A testimony of Marife Pinero, PA to our country manager in the Philippines

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.

Photo # 1 Taken at the 3rd floor of Casa Anson
8:15 AM on November 8, 2013 accross is the Regional Home Development Mutual Fund building of Tacloban City which is higher than Casa Anson.

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.

Photo #  2  Loreta with her entire family members who  provided food for us most of the time.

Photo # 2 Loreta with her entire family members who
provided food for us most of the time.

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.

Photo #  3  Victim survivors forcedly open the grocery  store to look for food.

Photo # 3 Victim survivors forcedly open the grocery
store to look for food.

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.

Photo #4  Emmanuel Roy and Marife Pinero  poses bravely in one of the main street of  Tacloban City on November 9, 2013. Emmanuel Roy and Marife Pinero  poses bravely in one of the main street of  Tacloban City on November 9, 2013.

Photo #4 Emmanuel Roy and Marife Pinero
poses bravely in one of the main street of
Tacloban City on November 9, 2013.
Emmanuel Roy and Marife Pinero
poses bravely in one of the main street of
Tacloban City on November 9, 2013.