It took only eight hours for a deadly super typhoon to pass by my hometown and give it a taste of roaring winds and heavy rains, destroying everything in its wake, including my life. The beast was called Yolanda, an intense tropical cyclone born in the Pacific Ocean; a terrifying child of warm water and cold air. It was a spinning mass of destruction, going at 315 kilometers per hour and heading for the Philippines.
Unfortunately, its first stop was Guiuan, Eastern Samar, a small fishing town located in the Visayas that attracted tourists with her beautiful, sandy beaches and large, salty waves fit for surfing.
It was November 2013 when the super storm happened and decided to upheave everything in my life.
I was studying as a senior in a private Catholic school in Guiuan and a week before the storm, all I cared about was making my crush notice me and picking out the best clothes to wear to school on the weekends.
[pullquote]”A week before the storm, all I cared about was making my crush notice me”[/pullquote]
I could hardly believe anything that had happened. Which was a little ironic, because Guiuan was prone to having typhoons since it was situated beside the Pacific Ocean. I guess we had gotten so used to storm signals that we didn’t think another one could affect us.
The sad part is, I actually thought my life was going great at that moment. I was at the top of my high school game and it finally seemed as though I was heading for a future that I wasn’t going to regret. But then in those eight hours, everything fell to pieces and my life changed forever.
The day before the storm came, national and local media stations kept broadcasting warnings. The storm was all everyone talked about, from radio and TV shows to market place chatter and street talk.
“I woke up to the sound of a coconut tree branch slamming against my bedroom window”
At dawn on November 7, the day of the storm, I woke up to the sound of a coconut tree branch slamming against my bedroom window. The power was out and I could hear the echos of my parents’ prayers from the living room.
I was scared. The wind was howling loudly and our house was rocking to the slam of the wind; the sky was crying ferociously and heavily.
Soon, our windows were cracking and the house was getting flooded. We hurried to a corner in the house with only a few windows and decided to wait the storm out, praying for God to spare us. We were freezing cold; our clothes were wet because the water was rising rapidly. My mom was crying so hard and we both hugged each other.
My dad placed his arm on my mom’s back, rubbing it. He looked at me, rosary in one hand, and I saw something flash in his eyes.
More windows shattered, the water kept rising, the wind howled louder, and we chanted more prayers.
I remember crying as well. I joined the wail of the sky, but the storm’s cry was more powerful than mine.
“Our clothes were wet because the water was rising rapidly”
I prayed hard to God, asking Him to spare my parents’ lives and take mine instead, because I couldn’t bear the thought of living in this world without them.
When the eye of the storm passed, I couldn’t believe that we were all still alive and unhurt. Yes, we were cold, wet, and starving; our living room was ruined, my bedroom door was ripped off the wall, our house was wrecked and flooded, but at least we were all okay. It was more that we could hope for.
My parents and I decided to go out and see how much damage was done — and found the whole town devastated. Almost all houses in Guiuan were unrecognizable. The storm destroyed windows, roofs, and homes. It destroyed us, too. The town looked like it had been bombed. There was no food, no water, no electricity, no safe haven and no help. The battle for survival did not only happen during the storm, but in its aftermath.
When I saw my school — nothing left but ruins — I felt numb. I wondered what would happen to my education then. Classes were suspended of course, and I was afraid that my future was at a standstill.
I had a lot of opportunities for my life in that month. I was going to compete in the Regional Schools Press Conference, my school was presenting an English drama that I wrote, and I was a candidate for graduation with honors. Now all of it seemed like an entire universe away. All we could think about was how to survive each day. My parents and I were eating stale canned goods and sleeping on makeshift beds made out of cardboard boxes.
[pullquote]“My parents and I were eating stale canned goods and sleeping on makeshift beds”[/pullquote]
Help finally came, and the sound of airplanes and helicopters whizzing past dominated the past few days of that new reality.
The entire town looked like a war zone, with broken houses, fallen trees, corpses on the streets, and looting everywhere. There was even a semi-torn Philippine flag on our neighbor’s roof.
We took baths thrice a week because there was water shortage. People had to walk to get anywhere because no one was selling gas. Electronics were useless because the power supply was out. It basically looked like Guiuan had gone back to the olden days, and all of us had to start anew.
I realized many things because of that experience. One was that I should not take things for granted because they might be taken away from me.
To compensate for the lost time, the school administration decided to hold classes while the school building was being renovated. We had classes in tents and broken classrooms with tarpaulins for roofs. It was a mighty struggle, but we got through it.
[pullquote]“I learned that I should not be dwelling on the things going on around me too much because they might change at any given day” [/pullquote]
I learned that I should not be dwelling on the things going on around me too much because they might change at any given day. Before the storm, I had forgotten about spending time with my parents, and looking away from my phone. I had forgotten about nature and its beauty. The storm made me realize that my life did not only revolve around technology and social media.
As cliche as it may sound, things really do happen for a reason. It might not be clear what the reason is at first, but it will eventually present itself at the right time.
My life would be different now if it wasn’t for that event. Before the storm, I had already planned a different path for me after graduation. Had the storm failed to exist, I would not be where I am today.
Yes, things are not how I expected them to be, but that’s okay, because they turned out for the better.
Now, Guiuan is recovering well. New infrastructure is rising, houses have been rebuilt, trees are sprouting again, and everyone has slowly moved on from the devastation that befell us three years ago. Soon, no newcomer in Guiuan will be able to tell that she was once destroyed by a super typhoon.
If the mighty town of Guiuan surpassed one of the deadliest and strongest typhoons ever recorded in history, then I think she can surpass anything.
And so can I.