• The survival of Erica

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    Fr. Shay Cullen

    Fr. Shay Cullen

    Tacloban,  Leyte.
    I arrived here with the Preda team of social workers to prepare the way for a series of training seminars to combat human trafficking and give the many survivors in the squalid evacuation camps group therapy to cope better with the tragedy and great loss they have suffered because of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). For the children we have puppet shows that teach abuse prevention.  But I went first to find the missing orphans Here is the story of one of them.

    We found Erica in a white canvas tent with her auntie and uncle about three hundred meters from where her parents’ house once stood. She was willing to tell us of  her tragic experience. The home Erica was half a kilometer from the shore line. On the night of November 7,  she,  her parents and two brothers slept  together in her parents’ small room as the rain was lashing down and the wind was rising. They woke after a hour.

    “This is going to be a strong storm, everyone stay close tonight, “her father told them. By 2 am the howling wind was tearing at the coconut trees and they could hear coconuts crashing into metal sheet roofs across their village. The family of five huddled together and embraced each other. It was to be their last embrace.

    By 5 am on the November 8 a great wave of water about twenty to thirty feet high reared up from the ocean and driven by a 230 kilometer wind rushed inland across the open land towards the village. It knocked down everything before it. It was unstoppable,  mango trees toppled before this wall of water as if a dam had suddenly collapsed.

    The great wave of water suddenly burst into their little bungalow house, smashing through the windows, collapsing the door and the water gushed in and quickly filled the house.  They cried out for help and were trying to swim to stay above the water. Erica’s fathers shouted to them to cling and climb into  the ceiling. But it was too late. The water engulfed them so quickly there was no escape. Then the  roof was torn off like a scrap of paper ripped from a notebook and disappeared in an instant into the dark sky.  They were trying to swim and float on the rising water and a tree came rushing by and was held momentarily by the remaining wall of their little house.

    “Grab the branches,  hold the branch,” her father shouted above the deafening noise of the wind. Her father and mother and two brothers caught the branches but Erica could not reach them she was clinging to the remains of the rafters. The water was up her neck. Her mother saw they were being separated and cried out in the storm: “Erica, we love you, we care for you,  survive , survive! “

    Then they were swept away and Erica was also carried off with the surging waters. They disappeared into the darkness and that was the last Erica ever saw of them. She was carried on the wave and bumped into a coconut tree and she grabbed it and wrapped her arms around it and clung on for dear life.

    After a long while the powerful wave began to lose its power and strength and receded. “I prayed to God to save me, save my family, to please to let me live,” she said.  She clung on  the  tree until the waters fully retreated. Exhausted and trembling, in shock she fell to the ground and Erica survived. Her parents and two brothers were lost.

    Two months later she still has nightmares. “I cannot sleep so well I have bad dreams that I am drowning.  I miss my family,” tears welled in her eyes and she grew silent.

    Then after a while we all walked slowly through the widespread destruction and ruins of the  entire village to where her little house once stood. It was just a heap of rubble,  half of a block wall remained.  There was a broken mirror, a hairbrush, a crumbled photo in the ruins.  Outside was a little white passenger van, its front window and roof crushed by a fallen tree. Her father once drove it for a livelihood.  The  landscape all around was one of utter destruction. Not a house was left standing.

    Bodies of the dead were strewn around the day after the  great wave, some covered by debris, it took a week to uncover them  for burial.  Over two hundred people died in that village and more are missing, their bodies were never found. Perhaps they were carried out with the receding waters of the great wave.  As I looked around this scene of devastation there were fallen trees everywhere and the remaining coconut trees stripped of their palms stood starkly silhouetted against a gray wet sky.

    Back in the tent that is now her home Erica said that she is thankful to be alive and she had relatives who are caring for her.

    “I miss seeing my parents and brothers. I don’t know where they are,  but wherever they are, I pray for them to God, they are in God’s hands now.”

    Asked about her future, she replies: “I have a hope to study and become a teacher, thank you for listening to my story.”  She seemed a little happier than when we first arrived.  Erica and other homeless children of Tacloban are being helped by the Preda Foundation, P. O. Box 68 Olongapo city.

    shaycullen@preda. org,
    www. preda. org

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