Kaya’s Placement Administrator Aureen Recounts Her Experience of Typhoon Haiyan

The following post was written by our wonderful Placement Administrator, Aureen, who works for Kaya in our Tacloban office. This is her story of the night the typhoon struck and life a year on from Haiyan.

“It was 6:00 in the morning of Friday, 8th of November 2013 when one of the flaps in the corner of the ceiling in the Master’s bedroom flipped open. The whole family was gathered inside as we were discussing our game plan for the announced super typhoon. We were just trying to tie the loose flap in place when we heard a loud thump from our living room, something might have hit our roof but not quite sure what it was. Our ceiling started to move up and down until one flap gave in and an unexpected gush of strong wind made it’s way in with heavy drops of rain. I could not believe my eyes, I felt like I was watching a movie in 3D, and everything was happening really fast.

One by one the ceiling flaps were ripped off and the small chandelier in the living room shattered into pieces. The hanging lamp in our dining table was swinging in all directions and was sweeping the pitchers, glasses, plates and whatever it finds on the dining table that was standing in it’s way.

The water was slowly rising. Everything above us was falling apart…….

I was shouting loudly inside my mind, “You have got to stay Alert!”, “Think quick”! I hastily ushered my family back to the Master’s bedroom but the rain had already seeped in and the merciless wind was lashing against the roof  and was trying to separate those from the walls. We checked the other rooms and we witnessed the same scenes.

We went back to the living room and took shelter under the antique dining table. I can’t recall how we managed to fit in, as there were 6 of us and we exactly do not come from a family with slim genes. My mom, my two elder sisters and two nephews had to snuggle close to each other plus our dog, Maita who was trying to squeeze herself in too.

My dad, portraying the hero role, as always, chose to just stand in one corner while covering himself with a basin to shield himself from falling objects.

We stayed for hours under the table as the wind continued to make swishing sounds and the rainwater flowed inside the house as we now had a wide opening above us.

We prayed and prayed asking for the rain and wind to stop. I could not explain how I felt that time, I felt fear, not for myself, but more for my family. I saw my mom crying, and my dad looked worried and shocked all at the same time, my sisters were trying to be strong for their kids even if they were terrified, as they had to calm their kids who at some point were screaming and shouting.

When Haiyan finally decided to take a quick break, we stood up and checked that everybody was fine, so far no one got hurt. We surveyed the house and saw that everything was overturned. The Christmas tree that the kids had just put up was seen down on the floor. It’s like a community of gremlins invaded the place and made a serious mess.

We were all in the state of shock but we had to come to our senses and pick-up what was left. A lot of things got broken, things that the family had invested on through the years, but those were just things, nothing compared to our lives being spared. You can always buy things, it may take time to fix what was broken, but lives… lives are lived once and can never be reversed once taken.

Days after the typhoon was a bit of a struggle but we kept an optimistic thinking. We were fortunate that we were able to do last minute groceries so we had food to get us by for a couple of weeks but fear was starting to creep in, testing our faith. As days passed by, we were unsure of where to get food that would get us through the following days. While we tried to compress ourselves in one bed, we tried getting some rest, but then every time it drizzles or we hear the wind blow, it wakes us up fearing that the typhoon might find its way back.

There were also stories of people who broke out from prison. We did hear stories from our neighbors that there had been break-ins on some houses. We also saw some uniformed men roaming around and announced that there will already be a curfew. There were some nights that we would hear gunshots. Knowing that our house is roofless and doors are no longer in place, our security is really compromised. Things were just starting to get worse.

One day, we heard from one of the people from the city that there will be a mass aerial spray of formalin. Considering my mum’s weak condition, we decided to leave for Cebu. We don’t know how to get there yet as the roads had been covered by fallen trees, debris and corpses. My dad remained firm that he will be staying and will guard the house. No matter how we argue with him that those are only material things, stubborn as he is he said no.

We made our way to the main road and it was disheartening to see Calvary hill bald and houses big and small had been hit and even the Cathedral that stood for countless years was not spared.  Even seeing people’s faces was saddening, all of us lost something or someone at some point.

We waited for hours, painful hours but all the busses were full. Just when we were in the brink of giving up, we saw a van pulled up in front of us and my brother in law stepped out from the van and it was like looking at a bright law. We all got teary- eyed. He was supposed to come back to the Philippines for a vacation from New York on the December but when the typhoon hit the country and when lines of communications were cut, he got very worried about his wife, my sister (second from the eldest ) as well as his son.

He asked the guys from his clan to help him get to us and so, there they were, knights in shining armour. We stayed at their hometown (Palompon, Leyte) for another couple of weeks as their town was not greatly affected. We feasted on great food and had good quality sleep after the hell weeks and had a wonderful time on the welcoming arms of my sister’s in-laws. We made new ties and despite the loss, we realized how blessed we are.

It was time to rise and get on with the gift of life that we were endowed with so we planned to go to Cebu since the small Kaya Asia team re-grouped there and a temporary satellite office was set up in the city.

Cebu’s a great city and it temporarily mended our sadness and made us dream for our future again then came March it was time to go home and there were so many questions, am I ready? Is the town ready for me? Is it safe? Would there be enough food? How about supplies, where do we get those? Would our health be compromised?

But then, I thought of my father, how I miss him even if he was not the sweetest dad, he was still my dad. I thought of our house, and things that we might still be able to keep. I pictured our house to be a big mess but it’s the house where I grew up in and there had been too many memories and abandoning the house would mean throwing all the good things away.

Pushing all the questions and doubts aside, finally, I went home, Tacloban, here I am! First few months were really difficult, no big stores yet, limited choices on supplies, and it takes time to catch a jeep home from the office, but we can’t whine and learn to adjust on what we have at hand.

Then the city that they said won’t recover until 10 years, had finally picked up. October is fast approaching and it’ll be a month away from the anniversary of the calamity. One year has passed yet we still share Haiyan stories with each other but now with a difference perspective, now we can laugh about it, joked on how we looked like or strategies we did to live and we mumble, I’m a Haiyan survivor, beat that!

Looking at the Calvary hill in Palo, it’s got lights along the stairs now and people can view the lights below the hill during night time.

The Palo Cathedral, had slowly been repaired and I was even able to attend a friend’s wedding sometime in August and it definitely looked better than how it was days after the typhoon, my faith rose together with the Cathedral.

We also have a bank in Palo now, as we had to get to the City before just to withdraw from ATM Machines.

Robinson’s up and running now, with even better stores. Gaisano Central is also operational now and Gaisano Main is under renovation. And guess what, SM, the biggest and most popular mall in the Philippines is now in Tacloban, workers are still busy building it.

There are new and old bars as well as restos in downtown now.

And our house…. It does not look like the same way as it is before as we had to change a lot of the structure to make it well founded now and boy I’m glad to see a roof on top of me.

My family and I are closer now, knowing that we are stronger together and bonded with love and faith in God, no matter how many typhoons or calamities come and shake us (not that we are asking for more) we will remain a household of faith.

Looking at the aftermath, it wasn’t only bad things that Haiyan brought, but above that there are better things that came our way, realizations that are way more precious than temporal things.

Rise Tacloban and move forward Palo as there is a wonderful future that awaits us!”