One day before the anticipated super typhoon, I joined the crowd of customers lining up to pay for bread, some candles and a flashlight. I got them in small quantities. Typhoon in my homeplace is no longer news. We are hit a hundred times in a year.
In fact, 12 hours before the wind blew, I rented DVD copies of movies I planned to watch the next day. I thought it would kill the boredom of being forced to stay at home because of typhoon. I asked the staff, “Will you be open tomorrow?”
“Yes, Sir, at 9:00 am,” was his casual reply.
“Typhoon is coming,” I warned. “Super typhoon!” More of a friendly warning than scare. Chitchat in the Philippines is not uncommon among strangers.
“Flash report is saying we are already signal no. 4 today. But where is that?!!!” he pulled a joke. The whole nation was glued on TV watching the appearance of the Philippine Development Assistance Fund scammer being interviewed in the Senate.
I smiled. I wondered about the typhoon when I reached the street. The sky was clear, the wind was still. The air was humid. And the TV shows were focused on Philippine politics.
Of course we had been warned of typhoon Yolanda. In fact, TV news that night was interrupted by the announcement of the Philippine President that we take care, this is super typhoon, and warned us of the storm surge that would reach about 10 to 15 feet. That was it, then back to regular TV shows.
With me was my 26-year old niece, Gemma and Ken, my 19-year nephew. Our 5-year old Labrador, Aqui, was also seeking refuge; his instincts would tell this was not an ordinary moment. We tried to watch some news on TV when the power was cut and the wind was angrier. I gathered the kids in one corner and together we asked God for protection and acknowledged that He is sovereign.
To us, the sound of the wind was like a roar of a lion. We tried to take cover but to no avail as the rain and the wind were stronger than we thought. Much , much, much stronger, actually.
Ken got up and observed that the water was rising outside the window. I got up to check, and, in a twinkling of an eye, water was coming through the window, into the house. Before I had a second look, our clothing cabinet gave way, and floated. I saw the refrigerator gave way, too, and floated.
I said, this is no longer right – let’s get out! And even before I could say the last word, water filled up half of our house, waist level, then higher to neck level. Using the collapsing furniture as platforms, we managed to swim to the door. Certainly God must have been with us when we reached the door, it was forced open by the volumes of water coming from outside, destroying the upper half. Me first, Gemma next, and Ken last, we got out and stayed floated by the door, holding on to something. I had alreadyforgotten our dog when I saw her way coming to us. She is a dog, I knew she could swim well. But, oh no, swim she would to me!
The wooden divider I grabbed which floated along the way became our floating device. I instructed the kids to take hold of it – and hold it dearly – wherever the water would lead us to. Aqui, so I envied, was comfortably lying now on the floating device.
As the wind and the rain were hitting our faces like a thousand needles pinching our skin, I asked myself: Where to go from here? Swim to the tree in front of our house? Swim to the next house? And I thought, dead or alive, I must thank God still.
Gemma said, “Tito, ngadto kita atop.” (“Uncle, let’s go up to the rooftop.”) While it sounded like the best option, I reconsidered. Roofs were flying like UFOs. But where to go, really, under that circumstance?
With zero visibility - everything was all white - we saw, rather barely, our neighbor– father, mother, and their children - crawling from one rooftop to the next. Our hopes flickered. To the rooftop was the wisest way out; couldn’t care if we all get hit by a UFO.
Since the water was already rooftop-level, roof climbing had not really been that difficult in all my life. Aqui, the dog, got there first. Ken followed. He assisted Gemma. I climbed up, bidding our floating device goodbye. My middle finger suffered an inch cut by GI sheet – a kind of aluminum material used for roofing.
We crawled one rooftop to another until we reached a firewall, actually the second level of our neighbor’s house. There, 3 families, mine now included, covered for safety and waited 3 hours or so for the water to subside. We left Aqui by herself on the roof, me telling her that I trusted her survival instincts.
I lost the bread, the candles and the flashlight I bought. We may have lost all things, but I gained more faith in God.
Now I found one reason to rejoice: I understood - we all now understood - what a storm surge is.