Saturday, January 11, 2014

A TALE OF TWO SUPER TYPHOONS

TROPICAL CYCLONE HAIYAN is touted to be the strongest storm ever in the annals of Earth’s modern climatic history. It will churn winds at a velocity of 215 KPH with gusts of more than 250 KPH. It will traverse a wide swath of the Pacific Ocean before targetting the central islands of the Philippines then proceeding on to Vietnam. Once it enters the Philippine area of responsibility on November 8, 2013, it becomes Typhoon Yolanda.

I have survived countless typhoons and weather disturbances on land and on sea and Typhoon Yolanda will be the strongest so far that I will experience. In my mind is Typhoon Ruping which visited unexpectedly on November 13, 1990 at 205 KPH. From sunny weather, during that time, Cebu was gripped in howling madness in just a few hours, causing untold destruction and suffering.

Here in the Philippines, typhoons are rated from ONE to FOUR. At Signal No. 1, a typhoon will spin winds of 30 KPH and above. At Signal No. 2, over 80 KPH winds are expected to howl. Signal No. 3 bring winds of 120 KPH and above as roof sheets are blasted away from houses. A Signal No. 4 is the ultimate typhoon that raises winds of 180 KPH and beyond. When it arrives, it will not bring a lot of rain but the ferocity of its wind will level houses and uproot trees.


Because Typhoon Yolanda is approaching, I will try to reconstruct the events when Typhoon Ruping visited Cebu on that fateful day and the obstacles faced weeks after, especially in the city where I lived. My house is located beside a creek and across mine is a public school with Gabaldon-type1 buildings with a warehouse shielding me from the south. I was not at the house when Ruping struck for I was training in Lahug as a police recruit.

The training center then was located near a small airport which is now converted as the Cebu IT Park. It was an open field then and very exposed. I remembered it was a very hot afternoon. We were cleaning the marching grounds with our hands and the day ended uneventfully. During supper, it came. Everyone ate their meals hurriedly and discipline vanished quickly as each man left the dining table on his own instead of as one unit as was practiced.

We all went to the barracks for safety and to weather the strong tempest. Rain pushed by gusts of wind entered through the rafters, near the doors and windows and, once these gave way, all those near it transferred to the drier side. My cot was located in the middle and so I was safe and dry. Everyone tried to sleep it away but the winds rocked the roof and the wooden building. All felt threatened by the intensity of the winds and all transferred to the mess hall.


By 1:00 AM, Typhoon Ruping uprooted the very posts supporting the roof of the barracks and lifted it whole from the ground and then it crashed on the bunks splintering the wooden roof beams and the cots emptying the damaged barracks of whatever occupants. We stayed at the sturdy buildings which still have roofs on it and waited for daylight. Nobody dared to venture outside and I thought of my wife and my 10-month old son in my old house.

In the morning the storm still raged. Peeping from the windows, I could see roof sheets flying in spirals as tree branches, already deprived of leaves, danced in the air, got broken, while those that not, got twisted grotesquely. Despite that, we were dry and able to eat meals. Presence of authority in camp seemed to vanish after lunch and I gambled to jump over the fence and decide to travel on foot to my residence, three kilometers away, at 2:00 PM.

It was raining hard and visibility is not that good. I need to be very careful with those falling debris and toppling trees but I also had to keep an eye of my trainors who are known to patrol the camp vicinities. I had to be cautious and hope the rain will shield me. The streets were almost deserted except for a few intrepid people clearing debris yet, amidst them, were falling branches, toppled electric posts and those flying roof sheets that came from nowhere.

I ran by way of Camp Lapulapu into Torralba Street then turning left to Salinas Drive where it led down to San Jose de la Montaña Street and then Mabolo. From there, I follow MJ Cuenco Avenue and straight into my home. The Lahug Creek was swollen but, seeing from the sides, it had overflown some hours ago and my house, especially the lower part, was still inundated with flood water.


I saw my wife sweeping away the muddy water and how I am glad that she was alright and I hugged her. My son was asleep upstairs and tears of joy stream into my cheek seeing him unaffected and warm inside his crib. I went down and cleaned the lower floor while my wife prepared supper. When my task was done, it was almost darkness. I hugged my son when he awoke and we all ate dinner under the candlelight.

She said my father brought her a lot of canned goods, rice and candles two days ago and she find it funny why father have to go the trouble of bringing these items since it is very sunny and very assuring. She had not experienced a terrible storm before since she is from Zamboanga del Sur. She later knew that father have known better and had monitored their situation in my absence. I would have felt the same about father too.

I wished I could stay long. Everything is black outside. Once my son slept, I kissed them both and left for the training camp. It was painful to leave them alone yet I have to fulfill my commitment as a provider for my family. It was 10:00 PM. In darkness, I walk very slow. Lights coming from people with flashlights illuminated briefly the streets giving me some ideas where I would walk. It was cold in the dark as the rains had not abated.

I slip back in camp undetected. I noticed a makeshift barracks was hurriedly built and
candlelight shone from inside. When I went in, another police trainee met me at the entrance but he was on the cold floor doing the “snake crawl”, a physical punishment wherein you have to crawl from Point A to Point B several times on your stomach, wriggling forward without using hands which are clasped from behind.

It was too late as the most hated training staff came into view and caught me when a troop count was ongoing. Right then and there, I was ordered to join the one on the floor but the other guy was dismissed outright and I got the full brunt of the punishment. I have no misgivings. The punishment was worth it. I have accomplished my personal mission and came satisfied with the thought that my family was safe. For two hours, I was cleaning the whole danged floor with my belly.

In the morning there were no morning exercises and it was now sunny. We spend the whole day cleaning the center of debris and mud while some of us were called to do repair work on the houses of the training staff. This particular day was the start of the day where all our meals were served with pork running for a whole month. It was kind of a luxury for the first few days though but when it becomes routine, all wished to subsist on even the lowliest of dried fish.

On the the third night after Ruping had left, I escaped after supper and returned to the center before the bed count had started. I had now developed the strategy based on the routine of how the staff ran the training. Two nights after that, I escaped again, and then more. I never made a run on a Sunday or a Saturday because, I knew, the staff would make a surprise head count from out of nowhere!

The following week, we recruits were used during relief operations, helped in cleaning the city streets, donating blood, etc. Then we hit the road again after a hiatus of fifteen days. We welcomed the road runs and it helped release all the stress we had of being cooped up in a place without news of our loved ones and a time to shed off those fats which we got by eating pork three meals a day!

In all that time, several relief operations were conducted by volunteer groups, foreign humanitarian missions and non-government organizations in Cebu. A United States Navy carrier group was even sent here to help in the rehabilitation effort. Power lines were re-strung and waterworks were slowly connected. For a whole month, Cebu was enveloped in darkness but flickers of light slowly claimed its place. Open wells became the source of water for a lot of communities.

One headline that gets worldwide interest was the loss of zinc anodes attached to a US Navy warcraft overshadowing the damage that the Mandaue-Mactan Bridge got from a cargo ship during the blowout. It turned out that it was stolen by adventurous locals and got sold in a junk shop. How these locals got past layers of sea patrols and high-tech detection gadgets bespeaks of the Cebuanos ingenuity to overcome obstacles and difficulties.


Normalcy returned to the streets of Cebu before Christmas and it was the extreme difficulties experienced right after Typhoon Ruping that Cebuanos shelved off their petty differences and worked together for the common good. Although all faced hunger, thirst, cold, heat and uncertainty, there were no lootings. Peace and order did not break down. Neighbors helped each other out. The dead were not left behind on the streets to rot and the injured taken cared of.

I was just amazed at how fast Cebu was able to recover. The governor then was Lito Osmeña and the mayor of the capital city was Tommy Osmeña. Both are first cousins and both worked hard to make Cebu the best place in the country to invest in. Both did not relied help from the national government. Instead, Cebuanos here and abroad rallied to help their fellow Cebuanos. After that, Cebu boomed!

After a year, Typhoon Uring pummeled Ormoc City in Leyte but their fellow Cebuanos did not turn their backs on them. The Cebu Provincial Government and the Cebu City Government were the first to rescue the people of Ormoc from starvation and disease. Malacañan Palace did not know what to do and our people took charge.

As Typhoon Yolanda hit Samar, I braced for its effect. I still lived on the same place but I am at home now unlike the last time. I had already accepted the fate of my roof but I have prepared the contingencies that would ensure my family’s survival. I stocked food, water, candles and batteries; charged full the cellphones, my radio and LED torches. I made sure that all family members are home. We just had a scare from that 7.2 earthquake three weeks ago and all now know what to do.

As the winds whipped the trees and houses, I noticed that the winds just skimmed high above the city’s airspace. Rain was just light and did not cause flood. The creek beside my house turned brown but it refused to go crazy. I leave house and proceed to the office where I worked astride a motorcycle quite confident that this weather is just a temporary nuisance. I brought my survival and first-aid kits with me along with my knives and a two-way radio to monitor the situation.

In just a matter of a few hours, Yolanda hit its third and fourth landfall in Northern Cebu and Bantayan Island. The glass door of the office rattled as the wind increased its ferocity. Meanwhile, my wife becomes worried about the wind strength and messaged me on the cellphone to immediately come home. I did not budge and kept on observing the wind velocity. Her second text implored me to stay at the office as it is dangerous to travel.

I did go home at 2:00 PM. I passed by the church in Mabolo and one of the ancient acacia trees fell towards its courtyard. When I arrived my neighborhood seemed normal except that there are few venturesome individuals. The foot bridge beside my house is full of people. A huge strangling-fig tree growing beside my neighbor’s house fell towards a public school, blocking the creek. Some people are chopping away the limbs but it is hard work and too few hours for the day.


Thankfully, the new house resisted another calamity and all the roofs are intact. We did not have electric power though as the line was cut when that huge tree fell. We do have ample supply of water and candlesticks. Candles lighted our first night until the fourth night. Dark nights made staying at the living room a must and conversations glowed giving my home the warmth it needed. The children played checkers or chess instead of PSPs and TV.

All that time, I am ignorant of the chaos in Tacloban City and the situations on the rest of the Visayas where Yolanda passed until power was restored in my home. Then I promised to myself that I will do my best of what can I do to the people of whose homes were ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda. Cebuanos are a people dedicated to their faith and, with that, of their veneration of the Señor Santo Niño.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer
 
1Single storey wooden buildings that were constructed in the 1920s up to the advent of World War II. It is a type of architecture that was adopted in all public school buildings.

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