I was in constant touch with my mom in Cebu City that day, who in turn was also in communication with our relatives in Ormoc City. Cebu City was on typhoon alert no. 3 while Ormoc was on no. 4, the highest possible warning by our local weather bureau. Ormoc is in the province of Leyte, one of the first hit by super typhoon Haiyan (locally named Yolanda).
I asked about my grandpa and the rest of our relatives in Ormoc and she said they had already evacuated to our aunt's house next door the night before. It sounded very familiar to me because when I was growing up in Ormoc, moving to a relative's more secure house during typhoons was not at all uncommon, just like we did during the 1991 Ormoc flash flood. My mom said she had been texting with a cousin till the wee hours and again early morning Friday just when Yolanda's fury was starting to be felt.
And then the replies stopped.
For the rest of the day we had no news whatsoever about what happened to them in Ormoc. My mom, sister and her family were thankfully okay in Cebu after the typhoon hit the province at around 10am. In the meantime devastating photos of some parts of Ormoc City were trickling on social media.
Finally at 9:46pm I got a text from my mom: "ang blay ormoc natumpag" (The house in Ormoc gave out.).
A picture of shocking devastation: our house in Ormoc now gone.
I've lived in that house since 4th grade up until I graduated college. It wasn't necessarily a fantastic house, let alone a structurally superior one. It was very old, inherited by my grandpa from her mother from way, way back. Made of wood and nipa roofing, it was a typical old house in the province but which has nonetheless withstood countless typhoons, including typhoon Thelma (local name Uring) that caused an epic flash flood that killed between 5,000 to 8,000 back in November 1991. The usual damage had always been just about parts of the roof and nothing more.
But Yolanda did what all her predecessors failed to do: she flattened this century-old house.
A view of the flattened house from the highway. I also can't help but notice the electric post that snapped, its upper half still entangled in a web of electrical and telephone wires.
Immediately the next day, my mom decided to go home and check on my grandpa and also bring along food and supplies. In the aftermath of such a cataclysmic storm, it was a given that there won't be any stores or markets opening anytime soon, so food was necessary.
She got on a fastcraft's afternoon trip. After more than two hours, the ferry stopped and she thought there was an engine trouble, worried they were still out at sea because it was total darkness outside. Slowly she realized they had already arrived at the port when she saw flashlights. Yes, there were no other lights but them.
She was expecting family to pick her up but no one was there. Although she wasn't able to text them since her phone's battery had already run out (they also lost electricity in Cebu), there was an uncle who left in the morning and was of course expected to arrive way before her to relay the news. Unfortunately my mom arrived first.
It was complete darkness all around, she said, and there were no tricycles or multicabs in sight. Ormoc was like a ghost city, she recounted. Luckily a car stopped and the driver offered a ride to anyone headed for Ipil (our baranggay). She was able to update me at around 9:30 that evening through a different phone. She confirmed that the house was gone and said that while no bridges collapsed, felled electric posts and cables were blocking the highway.
The next day we talked again. My mom said my grandpa was happy to see her but he was visibly distraught by the loss of his abode. She said she tried her best to keep his spirits up, telling jokes and all. It was indeed heartbreaking to see your house like that but somehow, she said, the sadness was quick to dissipate once you realize it's basically the same sight wherever you look. What we're most thankful still is that no one in our family was hurt.
Destruction everywhere; everyone was on the same boat.
While there were no reports of any actual storm surge in our area, I was still surprised to learn that Yolanda caused a bit of flooding there. And as the waters receded, the extent of all the destruction became more apparent. Even the house next door where we usually seek refuge during typhoons was severely damaged. Most of the roof is gone and portions of its walls were yanked off by the howling winds.
Water from the highway flooded the lower-lying areas where houses stood.
That's one of my aunts waving, with her grandchild in tow. This was right after Yolanda unleashed all her fury.
The house where we usually evacuate during typhoons was not spared from Yolanda's wrath.
You can say that the house is half-gone. This was the very roof where we stood as a flash flood came rushing by twenty-two years ago on November 5, 1991.
Nevertheless, in the midst of all this destruction, it's quite amazing to see how people can still manage to smile. And strike a pose.
That girl is one of my cousins, unperturbed by the fact that they don't have a place to stay anymore.
A few of my cousins with some bystanders, still smiling and all. Reminds me a lot of my tambay days there.
My grandpa and a couple of other relatives are currently staying in another relative's place. It's like a big room with its own sink and bathroom, an annex of another house basically. However cramped it gets, and as difficult as their situation is, that'll do for now until everyone can rebuild.
And yes, we can all rebuild.