‘A monster was prying the roof open’
Last Monday at the Kapihan sa Manila at Diamond Hotel, the audience listened enthralled as a survivor recounted how she and her neighbors survived the fury of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”
Annaliz Gonzales Kwan, former mayor of Guiuan, Eastern Samar, where Yolanda first made landfall, said her neighbors had sought shelter in her house because it was made of concrete. They had evacuated to the house in previous storms and emerged unscathed. They were unafraid and used to storms, she said, Samar being in the typhoon belt. They were expecting a fierce wind, but it was surprisingly calm on the eve of Nov. 8. “Where’s the typhoon?” they asked.
But the wind’s ferocity began to increase after midnight. And this time, the concrete house was no match for the fury of Yolanda.
Kwan and her neighbors huddled in the house as the wind roared outside. “It was as if an angry monster was prying the roof open,” she said. “We could hear it creaking and banging.”
Finally, the wind tore off the whole roof and rain began to drench them. They could feel the concrete walls shaking.
They moved to a smaller room where they huddled close together on their feet. They spent the time praying.
Kwan said the weatherman in Guiuan had been updating her periodically on the wind speed of the typhoon. The last update was that it was already hitting 300 kilometers per hour. The reports stopped when the Doppler machine used to measure wind speed was blown away.
In the morning, when the wind had died down and Kwan and her neighbors were able to go outside, they saw that everything had been flattened. Trees were felled, along with houses and buildings. Guiuan had disappeared. They saw bodies among the ruins.
Kwan said she was confident that help would come immediately. There was no help on Day One, nor on Day Two. When there was still no help on Day Three, she told her brother, who had succeeded her as mayor, to stay in Guiuan while she headed to Manila to seek the help of the government and the media. She traveled to Manila by way of Cebu.
Help began to arrive in Guiuan on Day Four. But relief supplies really poured in when the Americans landed at the Guiuan airport (I had written in my column that the airport was built for heavy bombers by the Americans during World War II. Guiuan was an air base and depot of the US forces during the war.)
“It was as if it was an American base again,” Kwan said. “The airport was full of US planes of all types, carrying men and supplies. The Americans were very efficient. Everybody worked. You could not see anybody standing idly.”
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The other Kapihan guests were Dr. Genuina C. Ranoy, a psychiatrist of St. Luke’s Medical Center, Nicon F. Fameronag, a director of the Department of Labor and Employment, and Rep. Gus Tambunting (2nd district, Parañaque City).
According to Ranoy, everyone who survived Yolanda, especially the children, and even relatives away from the typhoon’s path but who worried about their kin, are traumatized and need medication and counseling. Without help, the survivors will feel the effects for a long time, even years. The terror of the typhoon remains in the subconscious. Survivors will be afraid of strong winds, even slight rains, or the mere sight of the sea. They will relive that terror in their minds over and over. Sometimes they will cry at the memory of it, or for no apparent reason at all. They will dream about their experience.
But not to worry, the doctor said. There are now many medicines and counseling services that will relieve the anxiety quickly.
However, how can the survivors pick up the pieces of their lives when they have no homes and no means of livelihood?
Fameronag said the labor department was addressing the matter. It will employ the typhoon survivors in rehabilitation and reconstruction work so that they will have money and return to normal lives again as soon as possible.
“But what use is money when they have nothing to buy?” Kwan said. “The help should be in the form of food and other basic necessities, and plenty of construction materials so that the people can rebuild their homes quickly. There should be a government warehouse where typhoon victims can buy construction materials. When somebody earns a few pesos, he can buy a sheet or two of galvanized roofing. The coconut trees downed by the typhoon should be processed into cocolumber.”
“When people have money, commerce will return to normal quickly,” Fameronag said, adding that there would be plenty of jobs once reconstruction starts.
Still, Samar and Leyte and other typhoon-devastated provinces like Capiz, Antique and Iloilo need plenty of help.
Tambunting said the Metro Manila Development Authority and the Metro cities have agreed to adopt two or three each of the Visayan cities and municipalities affected by Yolanda.
For those who have evacuated to Metro Manila and have no relatives or friends there, some cities like Pasay and Mandaluyong have agreed to erect tent communities for their temporary shelter until they can get back on their feet.
Others are offering help, too. Annie Rosa Susano, former representative of Quezon City, has offered to donate 10 hectares of her property in Montalban, Rizal, as site for a “tent city” and for bunkhouses. Ten hectares! That’s as big as one subdivision.
Susano has also offered to provide the survivors with stalls in the family market in Novaliches so that they can have a means of livelihood. She said food suppliers would give their produce to stall holders, payable on an installment basis. With shelter and jobs, the typhoon survivors should be able to get back to normal life again, she said.
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