March 28, 2014 at 8:25 am #4155
My name is Arra and I come from Tacloban, one of the hardest hit by the world’s strongest typhoon ever recorded at landfall. Since me and my family survived the disaster Im more interested in preparedness. We try to rebuild our home right now. I’m glad this is a place to share my experience. I hope this helps others who live in areas that can be hit by typhoons.
It’s been almost five months since that tragic day yet I could still hear random people talking about how they miraculously survived the deadliest typhoon in the Philippines. I admit I could still vividly remember everything as if it only happened yesterday. And even if five more months, five more years will have gone by, I will remember every detail that transpired on the worst Friday, 8th of November 2013.
The days before landfall
Monday, 4th of November 2013 while I was busy preparing breakfast, my boyfriend, Mike, interrupted with news about a coming supertyphoon heading straight to Eastern Visayas, the central part of the Philippines.
Unfortunately, that includes Samar and Leyte, where Tacloban is known as the provincial capital. I was alarmed at that moment but at the same time, I remembered a time when a supertyphoon was also warned years back yet no serious damages were recorded in the areas affected.
Definitely, my family and I, including my mother and my two siblings are not going anywhere. We were pretty too confident that our house, which has been made of concrete materials, will surely able to withstand the typhoon because for the last 13 years, no storm caused it any destruction.
The following day, the weather was still fine. Clearly, there were no signs of a supertyphoon coming yet news are confirming otherwise.
Come Thursday, November 6, it rained intensely the whole day. I could still remember telling our helper that if the weather continues to deteriorate, she may not come to work the following day. Residents along the coastline were advised to evacuate their houses. Trucks and multicabs keep coming back bringing thousands of families to several designated evacuation centers. All classes of all levels were also suspended in the afternoon, colleges included.
In the Philippines, colleges are barely suspended during typhoons, only when recorded wind speed reaches 100 kph or more. This time, they were not an exception as they sent Mike, who is currently on his fourth year taking up Bachelor of Science in Accountancy, home.
Expecting the weather to get even worse the next day, I urged Mike in the evening that we store basic necessities such as food, water, cans of milk, and plenty of diapers for our 9-month old son, only to find out we were not the only ones panic buying.
All grocery stores were jampacked with people, mostly swarming over canned goods and instant noodles. It was the first time I saw customers falling in lines reaching outside of the establishment, patiently waiting for their turns for a last minute shopping. Though people were merrily chitchatting, I could still sense urgency in their faces. Indeed, everyone had their own little preparations.
The hours before landfall
The next day, about more or less 24 hours before the landfall of Yolanda, I was surprised to wake up to a clear blue sky on a Public Storm Warning Signal No. 4. Wind was still, as if no impending typhoon was about to occur. Weird it was because the state weather bureau, PAGASA, was still continually monitoring the movement, confirming the estimate time of landfall on Guiuan, Eastern Samar.
Shortly after a sumptuous dinner prepared for my brother’s 23rd birthday, television programs were interrupted by a live speech coming from the President of the Philippines, Benigno C. Aquino III (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgBHDM4I7Gs). I felt an intense fear. I knew this was something really serious. For a while, my brother and I were debating over the decision to move to my grandmother’s three-storey building. Initially, Mike and I did not want to leave the house, but the thought that we were just a few meters away from a telecommunication satellite and less than a kilometer away from the open Pacific Ocean made me feel too uncomfortable to stay. I gave in to their decision of moving to the building. In less than an hour, we packed everything that seemed important – water, pillows, blankets, gadgets, baby stuff, and pairs of clothes for each just in case we needed to stay there for more than a day or two.
Rain started pouring at around 9pm but the wind remained, unusually, still. We all stayed on the 2nd floor where we thought it was safest. On the same building were a few of my relatives, including my grandparents, three of my aunts, two of my uncles, three of my cousins, one nephew, and then my family including my mother, my sister, my brother, Mike, my son Caleb and I. We all couldn’t sleep well that night. We were all waiting for the landfall as no one knew what it would be like.
Around 2 in the morning, the wind grew strong. An hour later, the lights went out. Wind grew steadily stronger. It was 5 in the morning when we started feeling its real strength. Street signs, sign boards, and trees were all starting to sway. Pieces of light materials were starting to fly everywhere. Nobody knew it was the start of the longest day of our lives and a battle between life and death.
Seven in the morning when we found ourselves hiding in the kitchen as broken window glasses were everywhere. It sounded like shotguns. We were all shouting. Then we heard a shrieking sound, loud and clear (see video).
It sounded like women crying for help but it wasn’t. We later called it “Yolanda/Haiyan’s cry.” It was an agony to the ears. Everyone was crying. Then, we started praying. I looked down at my son who was silently staring back at me. I was embracing and protecting him the whole time. Beside me was one of my aunts who was firmly holding my nephew’s hand. My mother was hugging my younger sister; my brother on her side. My two cousins were standing next to the rest of my relatives. They looked all terrified and exhausted.
All of a sudden, my mom suggested we go downstairs since pressure was less likely to be felt there, only to find out we were making the wrong turn. While some of the broken glasses were going straight to where we were, water level was also rapidly rising. We once again climbed upstairs running for our own lives. Had we stayed there, we all could’ve drowned ourselves in the blackish, mud-like water.
We went directly to the bathroom, also a wrong turn because the glass window and the door all collapsed. We resorted last to the bedroom next to it where we have stayed until the winds began to weaken.
At half past twelve, most of us were already thirsty. Some were starving. Who wouldn’t? We missed breakfast, lunch next. What we had were only a few packs of biscuit and a 6-gallon of distilled water, initially meant for my sons’s consumption for the next few days.
Shortly after Landfall
I saw the clock ticking towards two in the afternoon. I didn’t know we’ve been trapped there for nearly 10 hours now. I realized it was safe to go outside when my mom kept urging me to get out of the room. She wanted me to visualize what was left of our hometown. I was hesitant at first but when I heard someone crying out loud, I went out to sneak. Then I saw my aunt breaking down.
I found out that her father together with a total of 10 of her relatives got drowned in a nearby village. It was only then that I realized about the storm surge. I could hardly believe it was the same flood-like water that almost took our lives. I went to the nearest window and I was struck with what I saw. Everything was barely recognizable – piles of debris, roofless houses and houses that used to be there but now are missing, trees gone, roads blocked, confused people, and worse, dead bodies everywhere. It was a movie-like scenario.
I suddenly imagined what was left of our house. Without any hesitation, I asked Mike and my brother to bring me there amidst the danger. Roads were completely blocked. We were left with no choice but to walk on a thigh-deep flood mixed with oil spill coming from the nearby factory. Normally, it would only take me around 3-5 minutes to reach home but at that moment, it felt like half an hour before I saw an entirely roofless house. What stunned us more was when we saw a pig tied at the terrace and a neighbor coming out wearing my brother’s expensive polo shirt. I immediately thought we were looted. Everything was a complete mess inside the house. We immediately collected what we could still save such as a few of our clothes, baby stuff, kitchen utensils, etc. But the food that we saved, the refrigerator, washing machine and several of our things have gone missing. What was even more painful was the thought of leaving our dogs behind after their effort of surviving. But we just couldn’t bring them with us. Scarcity was at its very peak at that time. Looting was everywhere. At that moment, I realized money was nothing but pieces of paper. Worthless. Useless.
A house of one of my mother’s sisters survived with only a minimal damage. But because the building that we took refuge at the time of the landfall was starting to get crowded, we resorted to move to my aunt’s. We stayed there for another week before we all left. I would say it was one of the torturing days post-Haiyan. Communication signals were still down and our problem at that time was how to contact my dad who was in Manila for a seminar during the typhoon. I could just imagine how worried he was.
Four days after, I was able to call him fortunately. I was crying the whole time and all I could just repeatedly utter was, “Papa, come home. Pick us up.”
Another problem that made me overly worried was the lack of potable water. I was no longer breastfeeding at that time, so clean water was a necessity for my son.
Third problem was the lack of electricity and since my work is a homebased online job, I missed work for more than a week without any notice.
Trapped and unrecovered bodies were also starting to decay. I would probably describe the smell as rotten and sour altogether, and it just grew worse everyday. It got me worried because we were all at risk for several diseases had we stayed there any longer.
Lastly, was the issue on security. Violence was everywhere – nonstop looting, hearsay about murders, rape, etc. It was also one of the main reasons why no one was able to sleep very well.
Relief efforts were barely felt despite of the billions amount of donations coming to the Philippines. We felt neglected and robbed of our rights. Where was the government? What were they doing? And lastly, what are all they waiting for? Yes, we may have survived the typhoon but the everyday wait for relief will surely starve us to death. It was never sufficient. It was what urged my family along with the rest of my relatives to decide we vaccate the area immediately. We needed a place where we could take refuge and be able to feed ourselves. We needed a less damaged place where no looting happened so we could buy our necessities. That’s when we found Sogod, Southern Leyte.
Sogod is a second class municipality in the province of Southern Leyte, Philippines. Famous for its Agas-Agas bridge, it has slowly become one of the most visited places in Region VIII.
My family decided to stay in Sogod for the next two days but immediately booked a ticket bound for Cebu City, Philippines, because my son was already starting to manifest diarrhea at that time and we knew he will be properly taken care of once we get there.
Weeks After the Landfall
Cebu became our second home. It was where we finally saw our dad. He found a home for us to stay. We spent Christmas and New Year there. It made us temporarily forget what we went through. We started living a normal life back but still, it was far from what we got used to. We were away from our comfort zones and every now and then, we would long to be back where we spent most of our lives. It was hard but we started getting used to the situation.
January 17th, we all went back to Tacloban to pick up the pieces left and start rebuilding the normal lives that Typhoon Haiyan selfishly stole from us.
Looking back, I still feel blessed despite of everything because none of the family got badly hurt. Everyone made it to survive, but of course if there was one thing I regret, it was when we took Typhoon Haiyan for granted. We could have prepared for the worse. We could have saved a lot of our stuff, more importantly a lot of people would not have lost their own lives if everybody was REALLY prepared.
Tacloban is slowly but surely getting better. Business establishments have finally reopened, but prices remain to be above average. Of course, no one’s complaining. It’s better expensive than having none to spend our money for. Violence has no longer been felt since. People are getting their normal lives back too and that’s one sign that Taclobanons are truly survivors.
Currently, our house is still under renovation but surely anytime this week, we shall be going back to the home that made us happy memories and the home that will still be ours for the next couple of years, by God’s heavenly grace.
Attachments:You must be logged in to view attached files.March 28, 2014 at 8:26 am #4162
Two more pictures of the devastation. If you have any questions please let me know. A lot of things went wrong, but what matters is that we survived.
Attachments:You must be logged in to view attached files.March 28, 2014 at 11:16 am #4203
Welcome Arra, it is real survival story, and I a glad you survived.
This experience definitely change your views on life, on good ways, and next time you gonna be prepared.
There is common events with other survival stories here: crowded shops, not prepared people, lack of plans, looting, panic, decayed bodies.
Events that caused SHTF event can be quite different, but results are pretty much same in any.
Thank you for sharing this story with us and stay prepared.March 28, 2014 at 2:21 pm #4241
Thank you for this really detailed writeup Arra. Glad you and your family are safe now and welcome to the forum! Can you speak a bit more about the looting? Were the looters all types of normal people or clearly more the gang / criminal type?
Did looters fight among each other for stuff?
Alea iacta est ("The die has been cast")March 28, 2014 at 2:34 pm #4263
Arra, hello. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am sure it is like a dream to write down the story of what your family went through. You live in a beautiful country. It was so sad to see the pictures of the damages done to it – and know so many lost their lives. Thank God you all had a taller building to go to that was strong to protect your family. We have a saying here, ‘What does not kill you, makes you stronger.’ You and your family will now always be better prepared and know what to expect from now on.
Although I lived in a place that had hurricanes every year, many people were not prepared even with a flashlight or water. Every year in hurricane season, people would be found at the last minute rushing the stores to buy wood to cover windows and buy supplies. Every year was a repeat. Some years the hurricanes that came were worse than others, so people thought ‘Oh last year it was not bad, I’ll go to watch it at the beach’, like it would be a party. They died or were injured. We did not have the big tidal surges with these, that make your typhoons so dangerous. I never saw dead bodies. But lots of injured people and houses/things destroyed. Spread every which way over the landscape with broken trees. The wind does scream like that and is very spooky. Thankfully our little home always made it except for some outside damages – but power would be out for a week or more most times.
I hope your house is soon fixed, you can gather your family together there when it is, and celebrate your good fortune of God’s grace. You and your family were very smart and brave. May things be easier for you all now.March 28, 2014 at 2:38 pm #4266
Gypsy Wanderer HuskySurvivalist
Thank you Arra, its a sad story, but a good look at what the weather can and will do.
Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.
George S. PattonMarch 28, 2014 at 2:48 pm #4276
Did you notice some organizing between people who are looting, and did other folks try to organize against them or simply it was too short period for real organizing on booth sides?
How many “normal” people did loot?March 28, 2014 at 9:33 pm #4533
Watching those videos reminded me of watching the devastating Tsunami videos. Sorry you had to go through it all. Sorry anyone has to go through anything so rough and I can’t imagine being stuck two years in it like Selco.
That is why we prep. I imagine we have things pretty easy hear but if something unnexpected did go down the last place I would want to be is in a line at the supermarket or chemist or whatnot. Possibly picking only the dregs and barely enough water for my family to get through it. That is why we prep. That is why we are here.
I’ll finish my comment by adding it is early morning here, the birds are chirping and the sky is clear. I just played the video “Yolanda/Haiyan’s cry” and it scared the crap out of me! Gave me shivers…I would be praying too. That is an intense set of pipes on that wind blowing a gale against the building structure: Which is what science says it is but it sounds otherworldly and not in a pleasant way.
Thanks for telling your story. Get prepping.March 29, 2014 at 3:45 am #4742
Thanks. Ohh. The looting started right away. In fact, I would not have known the word if not because of Typhoon Haiyan. When I stared out of the window, people were carrying bags of ready-to-eat food i.e. canned goods, instant noodles, etc., I thought at that moment how fast the government was. But I realized, why are people such in a hurry? Why do the keep going back? Why would I see chairs, kitchen utensils, toys, if they were immediate relief efforts from the government. We then found out right then and there that it was the nearest supermarket that people were feasting on.
These people were of all sort – poor, rich, politicians, businessmen. When Robinson’s Place Tacloban, the biggest mall in Tacloban City, was looted the night up until the third day post Haiyan, people didn’t know the CCTV cameras were still working. So when the mall’s supermarket reopened last December, there were rumors that captured footage of people looting were exposed. There was even one who was recognized as working for the local government in Tacloban who was spotted stealing the hundred thousands’ worth of jewelries. How shameful. Businessmen of nearby towns also participated. They brought with them trucks so they could grab a whole lot of stuff. Some who didn’t have cars with them grabbed grocery carts and filled them with everything that they could reach. People were seen carrying piles of flat screen televisions over their heads. No one was fighting over such items because they were able to satisfy themselves with probably more than we can imagine.March 29, 2014 at 4:49 am #4765
Thank you for your kind words. Makes me feel good that a lot of you still wish us well. I hope and pray that these natural calamities will always find their way out of our precious homes.March 29, 2014 at 4:59 am #4767
“Did you notice some organizing between people who are looting, and did other folks try to organize against them or simply it was too short period for real organizing on booth sides?
How many “normal” people did loot?”
All I know is that when someone attempted to break in Robinson’s Place Tacloban, the police on guard, warned with a shoot but since people could no longer be controlled, they allowed to let them get whatever they want ONLY inside the supermarket. Not the entire mall. But of course, people became too greedy at that time. Instead of just grabbing the basic necessities, they went all the way to the nearby establishments up to the second floor where the electronics and jewelries are.
The looting started in the evening of November 8, 2013. But I was able to talk to a friend who shared how it was when she went there together with the rest of her siblings. They went there 2 days after yet they were still plenty to grab. However, another friend of mine who went there on the 3rd day already told me that everything with value was already taken. It was too late for him.
As of now, Robinson’s Place Tacloban is still under renovation. Only the first floor is open to the public. Hearsay is that the grand reopening will be in April. Several guards surround the mall all the time.March 29, 2014 at 5:17 am #4770
I know it does sound so creepy. It was too painful to the ears. Literally painful. I would never want to hear that kind of sound. It was as if s metal is twisting the inside of your ear that all you could just do is to scream with it.
Thank you. Yes, we’ve learned our lesson. Every typhoon since, scares the hell out of us. We’ve been traumatized not to be prepared for the worst. I am just so glad we all survived. We were still lucky and blessed after all.March 29, 2014 at 4:37 pm #5003
Hello Arrah. I just wanted to say how very sorry I am for what the town’s people must have had to endure. I actually had the opportunity to visit Tacloban in 1976 or 1977 while serving aboard the USS Terrell County (LST-1157). In my experience the people could not have been nicer. I am sure that between the time I was there and 2013 much had changed, but the loss of your home, family, friends, neighbors is still the same wherever one may live. May God continue to bless all of you in the days to come until once again your town is made whole once again and the pain of losing loved ones begins to ease.March 30, 2014 at 1:15 am #5248
In what ways do you think you government failed you with the rescue efforts afterwards?
Alea iacta est ("The die has been cast")April 5, 2014 at 3:38 pm #7137
Thank you for your kind words. Our country is once again being warned against a tropical cyclone which could possibly be take a landfall on Wednesday next week and is currently crossing the same path that Typhoon Haiyan did 5 months ago. We ask for your prayers that we be spared from yet another unusually strong typhoon. God forbid.
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