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Tacloban | Rogelio Serrano, Araneta University Navigator

I was awakened by a knock, and my early morning nap was cut short because my son Yves Randell arrived home early for a reason: classes in Tacloban City were suspended in anticipation of a supertyphoon headed in our direction here in Eastern Visayas. As a precautionary measure, schools were being readied as evacuation centers. That was November 6, 2013.

Thursday, November 7, 2013. Sirens were blaring in the air as firetrucks were busy traversing the streets informing the city residents to evacuate to higher and safer places because of the imminent danger Typhoon Yolanda would be bringing to our place. I felt a sudden fear for myself and for my family that time because as a Taclobanon, I have experienced not one, but several typhoons in my 54 years of existence, as well as felt the wrath that these weather disturbances have brought to us and to our lives.

My family spent the day busy preparing what to bring just in case the inevitable happens—packing several clothes and personal belongings just enough to warrant our mobility in case the situation got worse. Pertinent documents were secured, enough cash to sustain in the aftermath if ever, and enough food supply for our survival just in case.

November 7, 2013, 6:30 p.m. President Benigno Aquino announced on local televisions the imminent danger this supertyphoon would be bringing to our country. He obliged us to prepare for the worst case scenario but assured people that his government was ready for any eventuality by mentioning details on how interagencies would react to the anticipated situation.

My family spent the night of November 7 just like any ordinary night. The kids were busy with their computers ,and my wife Bernadeth and I were watching the late night show on television. “All prepared,” we thought. Last-minute instructions were given to every member of my family just in case the situation got worse. We closely monitored the weather bulletin up to midnight of November 7.

November 8, 2013. I woke up as early as 4:30 a.m. that morning to prepare for an early breakfast knowing that supertyphoon Yolanda would make landfall at 10:00 a.m. We have enough time to spare until it will come, I thought. I turned the radio on and heard from the radio anchor about the unusual movement of the sea. It had retreated to its lowest low—it was 4:45 a.m. I felt a sudden fear for my life. This was it! I thought.

Exactly at 5:00 a.m. on November 8, 2013. We heard a whistling sound similar to the sounds made in the movie Godzilla. It was so disturbing to the ears. The wind continually blew so hard that I saw houses that lost their roofing in seconds. I instructed my kids and my wife to stay calm and composed and to prepare to abandon our house. Yolanda was wrecking havoc on our house. One by one, I brought my children to our neighbor’s house just across the compound.

At that very moment, I clearly remembered what Nathaniel “Ka Thany” Cruz, my former classmate from Araneta University, had forewarned the night before on national television—that  this typhoon was one of the strongest and the possibility of a storm surge was inevitable. Tat made me so scared not only for myself but also for my whole family. The last thing I wanted to do at that very moment was to pray to my God for my family’s safety and for his protection.

Whatever preparations my family had made the night before Yolanda went to naught as panic struck every member of my family. What I can recall was my last-minute instructions to them: no backpacks, no shoes, no sandals so there would be no hindrance to our mobility. Yolanda had torn off the roofs of our house so fast that for a couple of minutes, we were vulnerable to the rain’s heavy downpour and the whirling wind that this typhoon had brought.

“Abandon the house!” I ordered my children, my wife, and my mother-in-law. I guided them in crossing to our immediate neighbor’s house despite the open danger of metal roofs flying in every direction. We couldn’t waste any single minute because Yolanda was becoming stronger as minutes passed. As I had just finished evacuating my son Yves Randell and my daughter Patrice Yvette, our porch was destroyed, practically shutting and blocking our way out of the house. This scared me to death. I cried out loud, “Lord, help us! I know you are with us, and I know you won’t forsake us!” The wind blew what was blocking our path, and this gave me the opportunity to forcibly pull my wife Badet and my mom-in-law Nanay Patring out of our house and out of imminent danger. Seconds after we left the house, Yolanda blew our house to pieces.

We sought temporary refuge in our neighbor’s house for almost 30 minutes, hoping it would shelter us from the storm, but Yolanda spared no one. It started to wreck havoc and destroy Pareng Romy Barrantes’s abode with no mercy, and this time, seawater was fast creeping inside the house. It came so swift that we panicked, and one by one, we got out as fast as we could because water was at neck level already.  There was difficulty in moving out because water pressure from the outside was much stronger, and floating debris were all over, hindering our mobility. As a father, it was my duty at that very moment to guide my family members to safety. Any wrong move, wrong disposition, or wrong judgement at that particular moment would mean death.

At that time,  all I could think of was that that I was the only swimmer in my family, and it gave me goosebumps. But the thought that my Lord and my God was with us at that particular moment gave me strength and determination to do what was right, and the assurance that my Lord has never forsaken me my whole life fortified my belief that He would lead my family to safety. So I ordered my family members to swim. I told them, “You can do it! We can do it! God is with us! Miracle of miracles, the water’s current led us to the door of our neighbor’s house, and it swung open, and we were all were carried to the second floor with ease. Praise God , indeed! Those moments were unexplained moments of our lives.

Around 9:00 a.m., November 8, 2013. Yolanda was releasing its full might. We fully saw how devastated our place was. Seeing people clinging to electrical wires from electric posts, a pregnant woman hanging for dear life on a rooftop, and an elderly woman embracing an abandoned house’s post made me cry. The water level continued to rise and now occupied half of the second floor. We decided to destroy the ceiling in anticipation for the worst that was to come. There’s no way but up, and that would be our last resort—out of the house via rooftop.

I gathered my family, and we formed a circle. We did a group hug, and I told them, “If this will be the end, we will all die at the same time, and we will die hugging each other. If this was God’s will, then thy will be done! My children, my wife, my mom-in-law, and I were in tears. All we were doing that moment was praying. The possibility of physical death was accepted by my family; we were just waiting for the end. But God really works wonders in very unusual ways because the water stopped rising and slowly receded, and exactly at 10:00 a.m., the water was gone. We sighed in temporary relief.

November 9, 2013, 4:00 a.m. I was awakened by the noise of the banging of rolled-up doors of a grocery store near the house we relocated to the night before. People forcibly ransacked the store for food and other consumables. Tacloban was in chaos. Authorities were nowhere in sight. People were beginning to be unruly. People walked down the streets through the night. They were beginning to be restless just like us. We were like zombies in American films.

I left early and returned to our place in San Jose, Tacloban City, tagging along my son Yves Randell, hoping to find and retrieve even some household things and clothes we could use for the days to come. The situation was different from the previous mornings because this time, there was no hot coffee, no hot chocolate for my kids, and no fried eggs. Those were things of the past. This time, we had to endure hunger. Endure in order to survive.

We lost track of time. We forgot what day it was, and it felt like we had been in the situation for a long time already. It was as if a single day that passed was equivalent to a month. The sufferings that we endured had an anesthetic effect on us because even the sight of dead bodies scattered almost everywhere felt ordinary. Even my son Randell was able to withstand the sight. Tacloban was isolated from the rest of the world. Government assistance was nowhere in sight. People were hungry, thirsty, restless, and sleepless. I myself was hoping for divine intervention.

Two more hard days passed by, and rain added to the miserable state in our place as the foul smell from bloated dead bodies suffocated us and began to become unbearable. Reports of unidentified persons ransacking establishments and houses caused fear and anxiety among the people. This triggered the exodus of people out of Tacloban—because they feared for their lives.

On the evening of November 11, 2013, we reached a consensus: We would leave Tacloban for good in order to survive. We would leave whatever belongings we had and start a new life in Manila. My family prayed that evening and asked for guidance, protection from harm, enlightenment, and steadfastness on our journey to freedom from the present misery.

We headed to the airport on the chilly and rainy morning of November 12 prepared for the inevitable. We arrived at Tacloban City Airport at around 6:00 a.m., only to find out that thousands of people were already there ahead of us. This was gonna be “bloody,” I thought.

I remembered some scenes from the movie Fall of Saigon, and the situation I saw at the airport was reminiscent of it—people pleading to embark the cargo planes our foreign friends had lent us.

November 12, 2013, 1:00 p.m. People pushed each other, and became unruly. My wife Badet told me that if worse came to worst, we would just try to secure a spot for my mother-in-law and go ahead. They would just follow, even if it took days. My mom-in-law and I were lucky to be chosen and boarded the plane to freedom, leaving my wife and two kids to battle for their own survival on that chaotic airport. I was in tears as I embarked on the plane because deep in my heart I felt that I was leaving my loved ones behind.

We reached Villamor Airbase at exactly 2:00 p.m. We were immediately rushed to the air force hospital for some much-needed checkup, treatment for wounds, and other health concerns. I waited for my family until the last flight that arrived at 10:00 p.m. but for naught. I decided to bring my mom-in-law to Antipolo for a much-needed rest for the night. That night, I asked God to protect my family that was left behind at the Tacloban airport, that he would let them endure it, give them the courage and right disposition, and that we would be reunited the soonest possible time.

November 13, 2013. It was my birthday! I thanked God that I had reached this special day of my life. I was happy because I was still alive and was hoping that my God would bring my family to me as a gift. I returned to Villamor Airbase early to catch the first flight that arrived from Tacloban and hoped to see my family again. Flight after flight came but no wife and kids were in sight. I started to panic and ask God why. What went wrong? What happened to my family? At 7:00 p.m., I received a text message from my wife Badet. “Pa, happy birthday! We are still here at the Tacloban airport. We just haven’t been lucky enough to be chosen to board any of these flights, but we are hanging on, and we are okay!” I thanked God for that text message from my wife Badet. I knew He would protect my family. I went home to Antipolo with much relief in my heart.

At 9;00 p.m., I received a message from Badet. She asked if it was okay for them to go to Manila via Cebu. I told her to wait for my answer because I needed to contact a friend who was based in Mactan Air Base. I did everything necessary, and replied to my wife, “GO CEBU!”

I was blessed to have a friend like Jhen Quimson, a beautiful girl from faraway Zamboanga who I met here in Manila way back in 2010. Now happily married to Mark Cabillos and blessed with a newborn son, she is the connection God gave me during our times of distress. They lent their time and resources in order to make my family comfortable during their stay at the Mactan Air Base before their final flight to freedom from the misery that Yolanda had brought to us. Jhen and Mark, you are God’s instruments.

November 16, 2013, 12:00 midnight. At NAIA Terminal 2, my whole family and I were finally reunited, and I thank my GOD for HIS relentless and undying love for HIS children.


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