If you don’t get why Ruby (or Hagupit) has been receiving so much attention the past few days, here’s a reminder of what happened the last time.
On the morning of November 8th, 2013, Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) set the record for being the strongest typhoon to strike land in the age of satellites.
A full year filled with news reports has passed so you probably already know what happened when it made landfall in Samar, Leyte, and the rest of the Visayas in the Philippines.
I thought I did too.
But it’s one thing to look at aerial photos of what used to be a neighborhood, and another to hear how a mother and her children, already forced to the roof, watched as the wind slowly tore apart the only thing separating them from the incoming surge.
It’s one thing to read that 6,000 lives were lost and another to hear how a father’s last moment with his son was when he urged him to go on without him an instant before a surge made them lose their grip on each other.
I lifted a few quotes from stories that were shared by Yolanda survivors and published in a book by the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE) entitled, “Sights and Sounds of the Surge: Stories of Hope and Survival”.
Although only a limited number of copies were printed, the FPE has given me the green light to repost some of it here.
The 7 excerpts below will show you what it was like before, during, and after the coming of the storm.
All of them are the experiences of residents of Eastern Samar, Yolanda’s first victim.
Brace yourself because they couldn’t.
Set the mood
When news of the overwhelming damage first broke out, did you ever wonder how it all started?
Turns out, all things considered , it was just like any other stormy day.
You are now in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, where a sense of calm set up a trap for the storm.
“The term they used was monster storm. But when signal number 4 hit here, the weather was totally fine. Nothing was happening. So when officials said to be ready… some residents didn’t believe it because they didn’t see anything.”
Reading that one year after is like watching a horror movie. You want to close your eyes, but it’s too late, you know what’s going to happen.
“Yes, they told us that it was going to be strong. We’ve already experienced numerous storms. They usually tell us Guiuan will be hit, but it doesn’t really happen. The storms end up hitting some other area. That’s why somehow, we didn’t panic. But then, this Yolanda, it really hit us—hard.”
It might be easy to blame complacency, but, then again, we weren’t there.
Sound the warning
What Guiuan’s warnings missed, their senses more than made up for.
“You know what Yolanda sounded like? It was like strong humming coming from somewhere below. It was like whistling. Then, it became deafening. Really deafening.”
Calm and confidence turned into fear during the night.
“It was around 5am. when the waters arrived from the sea. It was accompanied by a strong sound that hurt your ears… piercing your eardrums inside.”
“The windows were all making sounds. They were popping, like gun shots being fired.”
By then, it was already too late.
Make a choice
By itself, the wind was bad enough.
“The wind was rocking the place, like it was twisting the iron roof. It was like a thief wanting to enter the house. By sheer force, it was trying to enter, prying the roof open… We tried tying down the roof but there was no use; it was cut in half.”
But it wasn’t alone:
“My neighbor shouted for us to rush to their second floor where they think was safer. When we went up, we saw how Yolanda was tearing the ceiling and the roof was blown away, so we rushed back down.”
Many others had the same dilemma.
“We were all there on the second floor of our house: my children, their spouses, my grandchildren… It arrived so fast! I felt three waves come inside. In a matter of seconds, the water was upon us. We couldn’t open the closed door. The roof and ceiling were already destroyed. I kicked the door down so we could go out.”
As you might’ve guessed, being outside in a super typhoon isn’t much safer than being inside a flooding house.
But when you don’t have a choice, what are you supposed to do?
Outside the house was a torrent of water. The man in the quote above and his family held on to a nearby tree and whatever else was still standing, but then his strength ran out.
“It took me away. I let go of my hold. I couldn’t remember what happened next. I became unconscious.
When I came about, I was already washed away, 30 meters from our place. I slowly realized I was still alive, but floating. But my children, the ones I was holding, were already gone.”
Until the end
With the fate of your family up in the air, when do you know it’s time to stop?
“I told my children to run away but the waters were already inside the house. So my son and I held on to my paralyzed brother-in-law while we were also holding on to save our lives.
You know, in the middle of that, you wouldn’t even know if you were holding someone alive or dead already—you just continue holding on.”
I guess you never do.
The morning after
Based on the various people interviewed in the book, the worst of the storm started at around 4AM.
That means it took just 3 hours to go from waking up to this:
“I ended up floating near my neighbor’s window. I climbed up to see where my family was. I could see my house was no more—only one post was left of its structure. It was 7am and I was alone.”
Which one is worse: the wind and surges during the night or the impact of realizing what was lost in the morning?
“It’s like they’re just waking up from a nightmare. In an instant, since it happened in the morning, their surroundings changed. They started questioning what happened, and the others couldn’t believe what happened. We were all like that.”
But it was all too vivid to be a nightmare. For many, it isn’t even over yet.
Restoration isn’t remotely near being complete and already another storm is coming.
Know their stories
All the excerpts I included here can be found in Sights and Sounds of the Surge, along with stories of how the people of Eastern Samar dealt with what happened.
You won’t find it in bookstores, however, since it’s not for sale.
If you want to get your own copy, send a message to the Facebook page of the Foundation for the Philippine Environment and you might get one (for free!).
Or you can wait for the second edition of the book to come out. This time, it adds on lessons on disaster risk reduction.
Hopefully, it stops at that.
The book is great, but I don’t want to see a sequel anytime soon.
Go away Ruby.
This post was written by volunteer nature lovers. If you think it was helpful, please consider sharing it on Facebook and Twitter to help raise awareness about the Philippine environment. You can also sign up with your email at the bottom of this page and we’ll let you know when new stories are sent in.