I came into it from the other side of the world. I was one of those who flew with Philippine Airlines on its inaugural flight to Europe, which happened to be the United Kingdom. Or its inaugural flight after a hiatus of a decade and a half. A wondrous occasion, and something of tremendous value to Filipinos, particularly the OFWs, easing as it does their transition to new, and often alien, if not alienating, cultures. But that’s another story, best left for another day.
As early as Tuesday, word of a supertyphoon roistering in the Pacific with this country lying in its path began to worry us. The howling winds—the worst typhoon to slam into the world this year, the weather people said—threatened to turn not just the country into shambles but our schedules so as well. We were supposed to fly back Thursday afternoon (midnight here), but weren’t so sure we’d be able to. What an absolute disaster, someone joked, being stranded in London.
We did get to fly back on time anyway, producing no small amount of anxiety about getting rerouted, quite apart from plunging into a maelstrom in the skies. Surprisingly, neither happened. It was a lot rockier getting to London than coming back. An hour or so before we landed, I looked out the window and saw thick banks of clouds, but not the solid, black and enveloping ones that left a lump in your throat. True enough, the plane glided down smoothly, albeit to reveal a gray and wet world, the airport lights glinting dully in the drizzle.
My first thought was to thank providence for the providential pass, the typhoon seemed to have spared the country. I was swiftly disabused of the thought,
On the road home amid a traffic snarl that welcomed me back—Metro Manila’s roads were not spared the usual Friday rush-hour deluge despite dire warnings of nature’s impending fury—the news over radio brought home the extent of the devastation. Metro Manila might have been spared the “super” in the “supertyphoon” but the Visayas and parts of Bicol were not.
Even so, last Friday night gave me little inkling of the utter ruination the typhoon had wrought on the south. From the perspective of Manila at least, where a driving rain lashed the city streets later in the night but lasted only all too briefly, it seemed as if the ordeal wasn’t as long as feared and the destruction as epic as expected. Indeed, from the perspective of Manila at least, it was astonishing how a night that could unfold such ominous signs of cold and dark in days to come could usher a glorious sun the next day, dispelling the nightmare like mist. It was almost as if the typhoon never happened.
But it wasn’t so elsewhere. Tacloban in particular took the brunt of the typhoon’s fury. Last Friday night alone, TV and radio reporters were already saying Tacloban’s roads had become impassable, swift currents had overrun them. The winds had toppled several electrical posts, blanketing the city in darkness. Residents huddled in their homes with only candles and gas lamps to give them light. The reporters themselves reported venturing outside exceedingly warily, debris flew about and roofs were rattling and threatening to tear loose from their sockets.
Later, the Red Cross would report that as much as 1,200 people perished in the pummeling wind, 100 in Tacloban alone. Next day, the bodies of the dead littered Tacloban’s streets, barely covered in plastic and whatever else people could use to give them some decency in the rigor of death, passersby almost oblivious of them, preoccupied by their own troubles.
Thankfully, such as the devastated could thank anything, the typhoon weakened after slamming into the eastern seaboard and moving on. Thankfully, such as the afflicted could thank anything, the Visayas consists of several islands rather than being just one huge mass, breaking the force of the wind as it blasted one island after the other. Bohol itself, which was just beginning to climb out of a ferocious earthquake, which had crumpled churches and left a gaping tear in its heart, took a hit again. Thankfully, such as the bereaved could thank anything, the bulk of the populace had heeded government warnings and moved to higher ground.
Thankfully, the prayers were more prayerful, no bishop was there to talk about how the god-awful catastrophe was God’s way of punishing Filipinos for voting for RH.
But dark clouds remain ahead, the thick, solid, enveloping kind. Of course as ferociousness goes, Yolanda isn’t the most destructive typhoon in memory. The original “Yoling” at the start of the 1970s—it sounded ominous, a friend said before we flew back, that Yolanda had the same name—continues to inspire awe among those who were already around at that time. But as frequency and unpredictability and variety go, this much-heralded supertyphoon coming on top of an unheralded superearthquake gives much cause for worry. The restless, disquieting, niggling kind.
Of course that’s happening all over the world. But that doesn’t make it better, that makes it worse. Some things, like Yolanda, you can predict. Some others, like the earthquake that shook Bohol, indeed like the hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, the overrunning by rivers of their banks, these things, you can’t. What if the skies were to fall? Well, these days, with the melting of the polar icecaps and rising oceans, that’s no longer just a nursery rhyme, or lack of rhyme (and reason) thereof. It’s scary. Anywhere you are in the world today, in London or Leyte, in Coney Island or Palawan Island, disaster can strike you, half the time when you least expect it. It’s gotten so you get paranoid but keep telling yourself, better paranoid than sorry. It’s gotten so you worry about the terms of our existence and tell yourself:
Life, thy name is frailty.