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November 8, 2013
Typhoon Yolanda hits my hometown, Tacloban City.
It was around this time on the 7th that I was constantly communicating with people, asking about the situation. We expressed our fears. We exchanged tips on what to do. I told them to be careful. We communicated until the wee hours of the morning.
At that time, our tone was still casual. You see, Tacloban City is constantly buffeted by tropical storms and typhoons. I grew up enjoying heavy rains with my friends. Signal 3 was nothing to us. Life goes on even if there’s a storm going on.
At around 6AM, everything went dark.
All communication gone.
It was at this time that my friends and I who weren’t in Tacloban started talking amongst ourselves. There was a sense of dread that hung thick on the air as we waited with bated breath.
I tried calling my buddy in the military who was stationed there. He had promised to call me. At around 9 AM I received a call from him through satellite phone. And all he said was “Patay. Daghan patay. Nangalumos.” (Dead. A lot of dead. Drowned)
It didn’t make sense to me at that time.
No one could have predicted the storm surge that happened. Heck, we didn’t even know what it was. It would flood in Tacloban but waves crashing into the city was something we hadn’t heard of.
It’s a very painful memory.
And I am still wracked with survivor’s guilt for not being there. But what would I have been able to do against the forces of nature?
My youngest brother called me up a few minutes later confirming that the worst had happened. His voice was cracking over the phone as we talked briefly about the situation.
I told my Dad I would head over to Tacloban on the first bus out of Davao and he firmly said “Stay put”. In hindsight, he was right. I would have just added to the number of helpless people in a city of ruins.
We were better equipped to get help sent over by communicating with people and groups who cared. And so we started calling.
And within a short amount of time we had a desalination machine, thousands of water purification tablets and other helpful items ready to be sent over to Tacloban.
I wish I could have done more.
Two of my buddies (Jean Paul Verona and Joseph Jopillo) braved the long trek to Tacloban City to ensure everyone we knew was safe. I lost communication with them a few hours later. wish I had gone with them. I wish I had the same level of courage that they had to go on that journey.
November 8 will always be a painful day for me. The helplessness I felt on that day. The stories of courage I heard. The brave actions of my friends as they experienced the storm and its aftermath. The families forever changed by the force of nature. Friends we will never get to see again. It reminded me of how fragile we are as human beings. It reminded me that we have a finite amount of time to exist on this planet. It made me realize that each day given to us is a gift and that we should make sure that we never waste our time.
Help came from all corners of the globe. I would like to give a special mention to Davao’s mayor and now our President Rodrigo Duterte who didn’t hesitate to send his troops in without any prodding. He wasn’t running for a higher office then but he did what the highest officials in the land were unable to do, be there.
I know I’ve criticized Mar Roxas in the past but he also showed some true leadership at that time by heading small groups in clearing the devastated areas.
Mayor ROmualdez also showed his true character by being one with his constituents and ignoring the grief he felt while working with heavy equipment.
The first few hours after the full trength of the storm, everyone was working with one another.
Tacloban City was thrust into the international spotlight and foreign aid came in by the numbers.
It’s a painful memory but you also have to look beyond the initial pain and grief everyone felt because of the effects of nature.
Typhoon Yolanda may have destroyed my city but it also united the entire world.