Six months after the disaster that shocked the world, many tales of horror, death and survival are still being recounted in Tacloban City, Leyte. The true-to-life stories were about how people responded to the storm surge unleashed by super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that slammed the Visayas regions, Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013.
I came to know of these horrific stories during my five-day stint in Tacloban City in the first week of this month.
The survivors have their own stories to tell on how they saved themselves from the deadly force of the storm surge that killed more than 6,000 people. It was learned that some of the survivors are still suffering from trauma and don’t like to talk about their harrowing experience. Some of the survivors, though, had already recovered emotionally and were willing to be interviewed by this writer.
Many residents of the coastal towns in Leyte off the path of the super typhoon described how the angry sea churned and vented its fury on Tacloban and nearby towns. They said they saw the sea split into two just like what was portrayed in the classic movie entitled “The Ten Commandments.”
They said the typhoon’s unbelievable force generated mountains of water — as high as 100 to 150 meters – that raced towards Tacloban, turning into juggernauts and carrying with them everything on their path. These included cargo vessels docked at the Tacloban port, container vans and thousands of fishing boats. These were pulled ashore, crushing squatter shanties on the coast and killing instantly the occupants.
Accompanied by photographer-reporter Jack Gadaingan and businessman Boy Mac, this writer visited Anibong District, which is one of the most devastated areas in Tacloban. Although the residents were beginning to live normal life, telltale signs of the super typhoon’s devastating wind of 350 kilometers per hour were still evident.
Most of the destroyed makeshift houses were still without roof with only plastic sheets serving as roof to protect the residents from the elements. Although there were “no build zone” signs posted all around, the residents have yet to start relocating themselves to safe places. We learned that there is no relocation area yet for them.
Six of the cargo vessels pulled to the shore on Rawis Road, Anibong District are still there, serving as mute testimony of how incredibly strong was the storm surge. We learned that at least 100 residents in the area perished in the storm surge.
Whatever remained of the shanties crushed by the sheer weight of two of the vessels have yet to be removed. One of the vessels entirely blocks Rawis Road.
On our way back to downtown Tacloban, we passed by an Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) church located in a relatively high area. We were told that non-INC residents seeking refuge in the church during the typhoon were barred from entering. Only INC members were allowed to get inside, they were bluntly told.
Shortly before the typhoon hit the city, many people living in houses made of light materials evacuated in public buildings. These included the Tacloban Astrodome located a few feet away from the shores of Cancabato Bay. They thought that the astrodome with its thick concrete walls could provide them safety from the howler.
Indeed, the astrodome protected them from the strong winds, but they apparently had no idea of the dangers posed to them by the accompanying storm surge. It was the first time the people heard the words “storm surge” and did not know how dangerous the phenomenon was.
When the mountains of water hit land, the astrodome was filled with swirling water in a matter of minutes. Although confusion and panic gripped the more than 2,000 evacuees, many of them were saved from the watery death as they had earlier climbed to the safety of the bleachers.
But many of people who had just entered the astrodome were unable to climb to the bleachers and perished in the swirling water. We learned that at least 800 people, most of them children, were later found dead inside the astrodome. Some of the dead bodies in the astrodome were said to have come from other places.
We will recount more tales of horror, death and survival in this column in the next issue.