Written by Lerie Canlas -
When I saw the first satellite images of Typhoon Haiyan, and heard it described as the strongest cyclone in the world this year, possibly ever recorded to make landfall, I was alarmed. I was stunned by the image of the storm’s magnitude, and it was heading to the Philippines, the land of my birth. I thought of family and friends. I thought of my fellow Filipinos who seemed to have been dealing with more and more destructive calamities than ever.
Typhoon Haiyan, named locally as Yolanda, brought to mind another powerful typhoon that battered the Philippines in 1970, also in the month of November. That typhoon was called Yoling (a.k.a. Patsy). Because of the devastation it wrought, the name Yoling was retired, never to be used again. But it could never forgotten by those of us who felt its fury.
I still remember how Yoling ripped through the country. Offices and classes were suspended and everyone stayed home. Power was lost. As we heard and felt the powerful gusts and rainfall, we saw debris flying. Tin roofs. Tree branches. Pieces of wood. We saw our neighbours roof peel off one by one. Another neighbour had the whole roof of their second floor fly off. We also started losing our tin roof and ceilings too drenching our rooms. We all sought cover in the safest place we could find: under the dining table. All of us squeezed in. However, the space was not big enough to cover our big household which included boarders, relatives, house helps, and our own family of 6. All in all, we were more than 15. My father leaned a large piece of plywood on one side of the table to extend the covering. Terrified, we crouched and huddled together in what felt like forever.
Then there was calm. We came out from under the table and surveyed the damage in our house and neighbourhood. What a big mess everywhere! We had lost most of our roof, windows and walls were torn in places. As my father started gathering tin roofs that had fallen on our yard from all directions, the storm started to pick up again. It was not over. The eye just passed. Now the winds and rains were travelling in the opposite direction. Once again, everyone took cover under the table.
When the typhoon was finally over, we were without power and water for days. The cleanup and repairs inside and outside the house began. It would take a while for things to get back to normal. But we were thankful to be alive and to have the house still standing. Typhoon Yoling or Patsy left more than 200 people dead and destroyed billions of pesos worth of crops and infrastructure.
When a news writer basically asked, “Will Yolanda be another Yoling?” I too started to wonder. But it was expected to be worse.
In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, images uploaded by citizens and were shown in the news seemed eerily familiar. Filipinos are used to having around 20 typhoons a year and I thought this is something they will ride through. But gradually as more and more images from the affected areas were broadcast in the news and on social media, the true extent of devastation was revealed. It was shocking.
My heart goes out to the people of Tacloban and surrounding areas. Although my family and friends have been spared in northern Philippines, we are all greatly saddened by the deaths and destruction in central Philippines. Even now as I look at those images, I find it hard to believe that something of that magnitude can happen to my fellow Filipinos who just last month experienced a strong and destructive earthquake. It is heartbreaking. Filipinos are a very resilient people and are known to quickly rebound from calamities and be back to their cheerful disposition, but this tragedy seems too overwhelming.
Words are not enough to describe my sadness over the plight of my countrymen and feeling of helplessness at being on the other side of the world. If only I could actually be there and do something.
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