Monday, December 9, 2013

Some Yolanda Stories From Hernani

"Barangay Tres" (Barangay 3), the most devastated I have seen in this town. Many houses are gone. Those few that remain (can be counted with your fingers) are either just “skeletons” or “exoskeletons”, some probably just need a final push with a child’s hand and they would tumble or crumble! That grave, and that dangerous, even at 22 days after Yolanda.

I have not been around this town before Yolanda, but I could not imagine I was in a residential neighborhood where many people lived! So I went looking around while the friend looked for Sylvia who was easily found. She is not just some resident of the town. She is municipal accountant. A jolly business minded lady. Accountant eh! And probably reason why she is friend of my friend. She is/was the contact person my friend was looking for. They talked, I bantered with some kids then heard some of their stories.

This boy says they were already at a school building as advised by the barangay captain since Yolanda was expected to be packing very very strong winds. All fine until the sea inundated. There were about 50 of them. He did not make clear if all 50 were kids or mixed with adults, though in his story he said their parents were mostly guarding, taking care of their houses while Yolanda battered the town. And this was in the darkness of dawn.
He says, they all clambered up to the ceiling of the building where its roof was at that very moment being blown away in bits by Yolanda's winds. My afterthought... between wind and water, humans would naturally face wind howsoever strong it may be. Ah, I don't even want to imagine myself in this situation!

The girl has her own story too. She was not at the school. She and her family took shelter at the 2-level house of “Ate Sylvia”. I asked who this “Ate Sylvia” was and she pointed to the same woman my friend was talking to. Similar story. The water went very high up even engulfing almost all of the second floor. They all also had to clamber to the ceiling where some men have yanked the plywood away, so they could all hold on to, or perch on the ceiling’s beams. As if it was any consolation enough, this girl (as she looked at the boy) said at least there were adults to push them (especially the babies) up to the ceiling.
All I could think of was OMG! Folks, you be the one to picture the scene. Howling winds, darkness and the sea engulfing them who were already at the second floor of the house…

They seem to still have seen "fun" in all that happened. These children tell me that when it was already a little bit brighter (early in the morning), when the sea already went back to where it should be, they saw some men still clinging to trees and posts. Then they laughed! I also laughed at how animated they were telling these stories, mimicking the acts of the men they saw! Ah kids. They do not need to wallow on the dangers or disgrace that had just been. Past is past! They then started describing what houses are/were supposedly to have been around where we stood. This was a highly populated place, I realize, with the highway in between, still some 200 or 300 meters from the beach and mangroves.
We went to join the friend and Sylvia who were now about to go inside (whatever is left of) her green-roofed house. She described for me what this neighborhood previously was. Like, as we could see, this is some 50 to 80 meters away from the national highway, which in turn is still probably 200 meters away from the sea. And her house, then, could not easily be seen from the street, because there were other houses and structures in front of it. Like she herself had simple rooms being rented out to non-residents who would come to enjoy the beach and stay overnight. Those were then... not now.
Talking about Yolanda, they were ready. Reason, she says, she allowed some of her neighbors in less sturdier homes to stay with them as this was a new concrete 2-story house. But it did not dawn on them that Yolanda would be lifting the sea level to about 20 feet from ground level of her residence. How much more those residences by the highway nearer the coastline – which were not anymore there. ALL single-level houses in their barangay were engulfed, and people who were still at their houses were thrown away. Some, together with their houses.
The thing about the surge and the big waves, she says, is that it brought rocks and stones with it, aside from floating objects like trees, logs or tin-sheets, adding to the destructive power of Yolanda. They were on second floor, but those rocks and stones pelted her house at that level as the waves battered in.
Fortunately, virtually all residents in this town, even little kids, know how to swim, so many of them held on to anything floating and went with the surge going to the hills. Hills? They pointed those hills to us and it is probably more than 500 meters to even a kilometer or more away!
There was no water but houses here. The hills are way beyond this, after a wide field of trees and other farming crops. That delivery van came from the street the girl is pointing at. Another truck just removed from this place hours before we arrived.

Viewed here from the wall-less second floor of Sylvia's house, that pinkish residence (that's the back portion) may seem hardly battered, right?
But this below is a front view of the very same house, viewed as we walked from the highway towards Sylvia's house behind it.

One of the kids I talked to now calls that tent their 'family residence'.

Oh, animals also had their own Yolanda stories, if only they can tell us in our language. And I did not even have to search for that topic. Sylvia’s family has its very own animal story.

Take their dog for a canine ordeal. Admittedly, in the darkness and panic during the surge, none of them anymore thought about this dog. Or if they did, it was probably already too late. So, like many things, the dog just vanished, washed away by the storm surge. That dog had already been part of the many valuables the family cried about. They were saying, if even people perished, how much more the animals. So, much as they missed it, they had to accept the loss.

But after 14 days from Yolanda, yes TWO WEEKS, when one of her sons went to the plaza to queue up for relief goods, the dog was seen (as if also lining up for food), famished, dirty, and very weak. The son approached it, but it did not seem to recognize him, though it seemed to have no more strength to fight or run away.

Never giving up, son started stroking the dog’s neck and chest part, as that was what he would usually do when petting or playing with the dog. At first it just stood there as if unconcerned, but after a few more of the stroking, it followed him and on to whatever is left of their home. On day 22, day of our visit, that dog to me seemed strong enough to bite a stranger hehe, though it did not even bark when we approached. It just gave us a curious stare, as if ready to pounce once he senses anything wrong hehe!

Their pig also has an 'unforgettable story' of survival. It’s a big pig at that time mothering 8 little cute piglets born just a few days before Yolanda struck. When the water started to rise, Sylvia’s son ran down to save them. He scooped and brought three of them upstairs with his bare hands. When he attempted to return for the other piglets, sea water has already submerged the whole ground floor of their house. They were sure the 5 other piglets and the mother pig must have already drowned and/or floated with the waves.

The son, accidentally/fortunately placed the three little pigs on a shelf, where though shivering (probably of fright and cold), they stayed put, since they were afraid to fall on to the water. On which shelf, he saw later were his packets of oatmeal (his daily breakfast), so he opened some of them for the piglets to feed on, and surprisingly they started eating! Oatmeal for a first solid food of the three little piggies!

A day after the deluge, when Sylvia got a bit of her senses, she started out for the fields towards the hills, hoping to find her dead pig – as that would have been food enough for her and the neighborhood. Far from the village, near the hills, on a grassland, she was surprised to find the mother pig lying on its side but still alive. It would make a sound, and would open its eyes, but too weak to stand or even move.

Sylvia started stroking the pig, talking to it not to die on her 3 sucklings that were still alive and would depend on her milk. Then she walked back to her house to get vinegar, which on return, she started pouring on the pig’s head, neck and lips. After a few hours, the mother pig rose and walked back with her going home! I asked about the vinegar and she said something like 'for lack of anything she knows can be done'. She just remembered that her grandfather then would wipe vinegar on sick animals or them the children when caught with flu.

They’re now back together – mother pig and 3 sucklings – at the back of the house. As for the 5 other piglets, the family has given up finding them alive. They were just too young to have survived the deluge, says Sylvia.

Okay now folks, let us cut it here. Am coming back to this town soon for more of the stories (if you have one or two or more similar Yolanda stories from anywhere, please email me).

But let's continue on with my trip out of this place in the "next episode" :)

For a chronology of this trip's stories, click these numbers:
01   02   03   04   05   06   07   08   09   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18


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