Off I go onto the next chapter of my life volunteering as a Peace Corps Coastal Resource Management Extension Worker

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Super Typhoon Yolanda and the Amazing Strength of the Filipino Spirit

We knew it, Typhoon Yolanda, was coming. The community was prepared. People who needed to be evacuated to safer areas were moved there. Massive cutting of trees happened to mitigate the damage they could do.

My favorite trees in town, a row of gigantic acacias were severely pruned to half their size, filling the street with piles of growth to be chopped up and hauled off. Amazingly, Yolanda blew them apart even more, filling the street again.
Pruning the acacias before Yolanda

After Yolanda the acacias are a quarter the size they were
  Our group of five PCVs in my area made the decision to NOT consolidate in Baybay but stay where we were. Going to Baybay only put me closer to the center of the typhoon.
Villarubins' evacuation center

Our house became a mini evacuation center. We expected it to hit about 10AM and pass in two hours. The wind woke me up at 3AM. We had no power, no cell phone service and of course no internet. Three windows were broken and half of the tree in the back broke off. About 9:00 I realized I had a problem in my room. I’d closed the two windows that would close but the third set of windows couldn't close because of the air con unit. We hadn't thought about the upper two thirds of the window opening having only cardboard in them. The cardboard had been blown out and the typhoon was entering my room. I wish I could have videotaped this most exciting and somewhat comical operation. It took Alex, Anita and I twenty minutes to get the air con unit out and those windows shut. I did take video out windows during the storm. The Firm gas station roof almost took off like a magic carpet but after tipping back and forth ended up standing vertical.

The barometric pressure went below the lowest reading for a long time. This bothered me quite a bit. At one point I was laying on my bed holding my head wanting it to be over. I’m glad it was daylight because ten hours passed before we were able to go outside and view the devastation. Half the trees were down on top of houses and blocking the roads even though extensive pruning and trimming had been done in preparation.
Our restaurant outdoor seating area had a double fence. Now the outer corrugated aluminum fence is history. 
This big tree went down on our neighbor's house and what was he most concerned about?
His fighting cocks' pens were demolished. Here you see him with one of his fighting cocks.

Our weekend market stalls were flattened.
We had food. We had water because even without power we could hand pump water from the well. We rigged a hose up to my bathroom where I filled a garbage can to use for dip baths and toilet flushing.

 Having no cell phone service was unexpected. I knew people would be worried about me but I had no way to send or receive information.  This is when I discovered not even the mayor had any way to communicate with the outside world.
I'd told family members they could contact Peace Corp for updates in case this happened. I thought PC Headquarters would know but how could they know when all communication lines were down? My daughter placed a call and knew before I did that someone was on the way to evacuate me.
Three days after the typhoon, to my surprise my PC Regional Manager, Boni Bucol, showed up at the door.  Five minutes later I was in the van; the first evacuee, wondering where the others were. He’d driven to and notified the others to get ready to go and came and got me first so we could then back track and pick them up on the way back to the ferry in Ormoc. Nice for them but not so good for me. I was in pajamas & flip flops, forgot extra shoes and lots of other stuff I would have and should have grabbed not knowing if I’d ever be back.
It was getting dark by the time we got Laura Mudge and Marsha Ricketts in Baybay and Baybay was in much worse shape than Inopacan being closer to the centre of the storm.  Now we were three; three of the last five PCV to be accounted for. It was kind of cool, listening to Boni check in with headquarters; updating them on his progress, letting them know we were alive and OK. Everyone was OK except for Peggy posted two hours North of Ormoc. No one knew if she was dead or alive. Sharlene was waiting for us in Ormoc.
 I’ll never forget the drive from Baybay to Ormoc, normally about an hour.
I didn't take this but got it from google. This must have been taken later
when the hiway had been cleared more.
 The devastation grew worse the further we went. Every power pole and tree was down. If the poles were not all the way down they were precariously hanging over the road.  Burned out electrocuted vehicles, bundles of wire on the ground or hanging low over our heads, the only light coming from hundreds of cans with candles lining the edge of the road, illuminating hundreds of stunned faces. Skeletons of structures black against the darkness were all that was left of these peoples’ homes. The path had been cleared enough for one lane of traffic to get through. We picked our way along. I don’t know how many times I said “Oh my God”.
Poor Sharene was waiting for us at the Ormaoc dock, or what was left of it.
Again this is from google. It was pitch black when we arrived.
 Now we were four.  She’d been waiting for two hours by herself in the dark, because she was told to go there and wait for us, amidst broken glass and debris, destroyed buildings and hundreds of distraught people trying to get out. Sharene was with her host family when Yolanda blew the house apart and for the two following days with no water or food other than her peanut butter which she shared with her family.
This is in Ormoc and these kind of SOS signs worked in many cases.
 I heard stories about US helicopters dropping supplies for these people.
The drive was bad but this was the worst part for me. Our boat Passage had been arranged and luckily the boat was late or we wouldn’t have made it.  Boni‘s a big young strong (and handsome) Filipino. He got us into a group and pushed a pathway for us to run through the crowd and confusion. I felt ashamed. I couldn’t look at people. I was getting out and they weren’t. Boni handed us off to Sakib who was waiting for us at the ramp and would be getting us to a hotel in Cebu for the night and on to Manila the next day. Boni took off to go find Peggy. You can imagine how grateful we all were to hear from Boni the next day that he’d located Peggy and she was OK.
Here we are looking very happy with Sakib at the hotel in Cebu feeling pampered
with hot water showers, cable TV, wifi and a buffet breakfast
Over 6000 dead. It could be 12,000. No one knows for sure.

The devastation and suffering in Tacloban is horrifying
I love this video because this is how the people really are; always ready to sing and dance, laugh and have fun.It shows the strength of the Filipino Spirit.

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