Days after super typhoon Yolanda hit the country, stories from the survivors are surfacing, giving us extraordinary accounts of human strength, spirit and hope.
Glicer Natividad can still remember how he, his wife and two kids survived the typhoon that ploughed through his city: ‘Parang tsunami yata ‘yun’ [It was like a tsunami].
They were trapped inside their home in Tacloban City when rushing waters from the sea forced its way inland. Glicer said the water rose ‘not five minutes’ and that it grew up to eight metres in just that span of time.
Tacloban resident Glicer Natividad and his family were among the survivors of Yolanda. Photo: AJ Bolando
‘Hindi kami makalabas kasi malakas ‘yung current ng tubig’ [We could not get out because of the strength of the water’s current].
To survive the rising waters, the family had to cling onto the house’s grills and roof. Glicer added that he even tied water barrels he saw floating so that they could use something to keep from drowning.
But for Glicer, the ordeal they had to face during the height of the storm was nothing like the problem they faced the next few days to survive. After the waters receded, the family emerged to find a city in ruins. Glicer recalled seeing one house carried away by the waters — three kids trapped inside were killed.
‘Nothing was left of all the houses made of wood. It was a good thing ours had a little concrete’, he said in Filipino.
Glicer said that to survive, he had to feed his family with wet rice, porridge and bananas. There were no relief goods. All around him, children were also starting to get sick and people began to loot for food and supplies.
‘Tacloban is like a ghost town now. The houses and the big stores were being ransacked because everyone was hungry. We had money, but there was nothing to buy.’
Their dire condition made the family decide to walk the 15km distance between their home to the airport, the only area that had relief goods during those two desperate days. Glicer remembered the stench and the dead they had to pass by to reach the airport.
He and his family arrived in Villamor Airbase in Pasay on Thursday, miles away from their hometown. But even a week after the calamity that changed his family’s life, Glicer is still bitter over the seemingly disorganised handling of relief.
‘After the storm until now, no aid is getting there’, he said.
The family will be staying in a relative’s house in Pasig City for the time being. But he said despite everything, the family will return to their hometown.
On Wednesday, Facebook community group Josenian Freedom Board shared this survival story experienced by his brother who was in Tacloban during the storm:
7:30am. Typhoon Yolanda started to pound the city and the house trembled, glass from the windows started to shatter. I tried to force the doors of the bathroom shut, but the wind was too strong. I told my family to go downstairs to the living room.
When I followed them downstairs the roof flew off. A sudden rush of wind shattered the rest of our windows. I held onto my daughter Janzelle while we prayed. Janzelle was also having fever that time. We wrapped her in a blanket to protect her from flying debris.
At that point, it seemed like our house would fly at any moment. My daughter shouted ‘Daddy why this is happening, we are going to die!’ I worried she would cause everyone else to panick, so I tried to calm her down.
I told her ‘No Janzelle, this is like a game ofsurvivor.’
Janzelle: ‘What kind of game?’
Daddy: ‘Remember your game in Transformice and Animal Jam?’
Janzelle: ‘Yes, that’s my favourite game.’
Daddy: ‘In Transformice there’s also survivor level but this time is it real life survival, and the skills to get them you need to pray hard.’
Janzelle: ‘Oh I see, yes I remember that.’
Daddy: ‘Remember in Animal Jam, there’s enemy that keeping banging and hitting you hard it’s the same like this wind and rain. To beat them you need to have more energy from your prayers.’
Janzelle: ‘Ok, I’ll do that.’
Then she talked about her strategy for our game. She became brave — her fear was gone.
Later, a cabinet in the kitchen gave way and brought wind to the living room. Jasmin and her mother Fe panicked and wanted to go outside. But I said ‘Nobody leaves, we’ll only get hurt. It’s safer here.
Then the water started to rush in and everyone began to scream. My daughter began to cry.
Janzelle: ‘Daddy! We are all going to die!’
Daddy: ‘NO! We can survive this remember the game difficult level, this is it.’
Janzelle: ‘Ok… Daddy what is your favourite character in Animal Jam?’
Daddy: ‘The panda, I like panda.’
It took seconds for the water to come rushing in and reach up to our chest — Fe was already floating. I pushed my family to our room. There was no roof over our heads.
Janzelle, Jasmin and I were calm by then. We looked for something that floated and carried Janzelle on top of the toy box. The water was already to my neck. I thought of something to do next. My daughter then had an idea: ‘Daddy! The BED!’
I saw that the bed was indeed floating. I said ‘Yes, everyone get on the bed quickly!’ I carried my daughter to the bed, then helped Jasmin and Fe. I left them for a second to grab something that would keep the bed floating: plastic toys, pillows, anything and I put them under the bed.
Afraid that I would drown, Fe shouted ‘ERIC! You come here!’
Daddy: ‘I’m okay I know how to swim! Hold Janzelle.’ I forced my way to the next room and grabbed the toy box to help keep the bed floating.
Janzelle: ‘Daddy! Come here now!’
Jasmin: ‘Daddy! Come here!’
I then jumped to the bed and watched as the waters rose until we were able to touch the ceiling. We moved to the roof. I carried Janzelle first and placed here somewhere safe where she won’t get hit. Then I helped Jasmin and Fe.
We were surrounded by sea. Everything was floating — cars, trees… the only things we could see were the tops of our neighbours’ houses.
We were shivering from the cold, so I took the foam and foil from the insulation of the roof and wrapped it on our bodies to keep us warm.
We watched the waters for an hour and saw other people trying to get to their own roof. After 20 minutes the rain and water slowly subsided although the wind was still quite strong. This time we saw everything clearly and it was too much: cars were on top of roofs and hung on fences. I stood up and saw our neighbour who was a doctor on top of their house. Fe also stood up and we began calling for help. Dr Omega responded and asked one of his men to bring a ladder to one of our neighbours.
We were all exhausted. Because my family weren’t able to climb down from the roof, I waded through the flood and fetched the steel ladder from the kitchen. I helped Janzelle down first, another neighbour helped her through the flood as I supported Jasmin and Fe. We were rescued by Dr Omega — we were given clothes so we won’t get chilled.
We helped more people; we were five families all in all. Food was limited, so we went door to door to ask for food from those who still had stocks left. On the first day we were able to eat twice. After that we only had one meal a day to conserve food and water.
I haven’t told everything here but I thank the Lord we survived.
Surfing through killer waves
Tacloban resident Sheena Junia survived killer waves brought by Yolanda. Photo: Sheena Junia
Twenty-six year old Sheena Junia woke up at 5am to loud banging. She heard glass breaking like a gunshot and heard the wind, more powerful than she was used to hearing. But she dismissed it as bad weather and went back to sleep, hoping it would just go away.
She knew a typhoon was headed her way. What she did not know was how strong it really was.
Two hours later, she was forced awake by another loud bang. This time, the wind knocked her door off and floodwater rushed in. She stood up. The water gobbled up her bed in seconds.
Knee-deep in water, she hurried to get dressed. Within two minutes, the water came up to her waist. She grabbed her backpack and her surfboard which just arrived the day before.
The water was neck-deep by then.
She climbed up on her surfboard and paddled out of the house. She found it difficult to keep her eyes open because of the wind and rain. But she kept on paddling against the current until she reached the entrance of their compound (a group of houses enclosed by a single gate) in Barangay Sagkahan Mangga, Tacloban City. She hoped to see someone she knew, but she did not see anything.
She paddled along the current, which led her to the back of their compound where she saw a staircase that led to a door. She tried opening it, but it was locked.
Sheena felt tired then, so she decided to drop her backpack. They weren’t important now.
She thought she could not stay where she was then or else get trapped. She paddled hard once again to get to the front of the compound. A steel bar was protruding from a wall nearby. She reached for it and held on for dear life.
Her grip was secure; however, she still had her surfboard. Every time the waves hit her she would fall off, but she managed to recover. She fell four times.
The water kept rising all that time, bringing more wood and debris. She saw a woman float by. She was alive and looked calm — late 20s to early 30s. Sheena and the woman looked eye to eye, but she couldn’t do anything for her. She let the woman float away.
She was losing strength when she saw a group of people breaking into a door nearby. They had a pregnant woman with them. Sheena tried to call for help, but the wind carried her voice away. After a few minutes, one of the strangers thankfully looked her way. That gave her comfort.
She moved from one window to the next to get to where the group was. One hand was on the grill, the other on the surfboard, but she had to reach out to catch one of the strangers’ outstretched arm.
Sheena let go of her surfboard.
‘I almost fell and barely made it.’
The group soon moved to the balcony as the waters rose. They moved later to a bigger house nearby by passing through gutters and scaffolds. She slipped a few times, but the important part was she made it there. They stayed inside and could only stand idly as they saw other people drown. It was 10:30am when the wind began to die down. By 11am, the water began to subside and reveal the devastation it wrought.
She remembered seeing dead bodies and houses brought to the ground. A friend sheltered her for three days.
For three days, the girls in their group stayed to clean the house while the boys looked for food. She was always treated as one of the boys by her friends, so she went out with them to loot.
‘We literally look for what can keep us alive’, she said as she recalled going to shopping malls and supermarkets for food. She wasn’t proud of what she did, but she did it to survive.
She also recalled trying to buy a small bottle of juice for Php200 but the people would not sell their food. She tried offering Php1000 for a ride in a bicycle passenger cab, but the driver did not want money. He asked food for payment, but Sheena had none.
Sheena arrived in Manila on Tuesday by a lift in a plane.
She said she doesn’t want to return to Tacloban. But if she doesn’t hear from her mother and grandfather who are based in the town of Tolosa, south of Tacloban, she will come back to look for them.
Sheena used to operate airport vans in the city. With everything gone, she doesn’t know how to start again.
‘I won’t be able to make plans until I know my family is safe.’