First of two parts
Tacloban City is my hometown, and my family lives in a barangay near the airport.
When the first media reports began trickling out of Tacloban on Saturday indicating the massive damage the city sustained from Super Typhoon Yolanda, I was frantic. Was my family all right? Did they survive the monster storm?
There was no way I could contact them by cellphone. Communication service and power lines were down. I had to go to Tacloban to find out what happened to my family.
On Sunday I rushed to the Villamor airbase hoping to catch a ride to Tacloban on an Air Force C-130. It was not easy. My editors were calling up their contacts in government trying to book me a reservation in the transport plane.
I was about to give up hope when my editors told me they’ve arranged for me to be a passenger in that transport plane.
The C-130 left Villamor at around 10:30 p.m. I was one of the three civilians aboard. The other passengers were 200 police officers who will be deployed for retrieval operations in Tacloban and personnel delivering boxes of relief goods.
The plane’s first made a stop in Cebu City to load more people and goods. By this time, there were reports that the storm surge in downtown Tacloban reached 10 feet. I was too worried to sleep.
We took off from Cebu at daybreak. A few hours later, we landed at the Daniel Z. Romualdez airport in Tacloban.
As soon as I left the C-130, I saw that the area around the airport was nothing but rubble. The terminal was wiped out; debris littered the streets.
I was filled with dread. Did my family survive such devastation?
From the airport, I hitched a ride in the car of my friend, a fellow journalist. On the way to our barangay, I counted about 100 dead bodies lying unattended in the streets.
“I have to be strong,” I kept repeating to myself.
But my heart sank as I neared our village. I hardly recognized the place because most of it was in ruins.
I quickly sought out friends and acquaintances, asking what happened to my family.
Someone told me that our house was destroyed. I was gripped with fear. Then, the words I was waiting to hear: “Natalwas hira, adto hira kanda Mano Ponyong [They are all safe. They are at Mang Ponyong’s house],” one of them told me. I cried tears of relief.
I had an emotional reunion with my parents, nephews and niece at “Mang Ponyong’s” house. Soon we were joined by my two brothers.
My parents said my brothers had entered abandoned stores looking for food. I was aghast. I told them looting was wrong, and they could get arrested.
“Waray man iba Choy [my nickname], deri man kita mabuhi kun deri naton buhaton ini. Waray pa kami tagi hin pagkaun han gobyerno. Deri pa kami naabot hin bisan ano nga bulig han gobyerno [We don’t have a choice Choy, we will not survive if we do not do this. We have not received anything from the government. The government’s aid has not reached us],” my brother replied.
I wanted to argue with them, tell them “it is better to be hungry than to loot.”
But I saw in the faces of my niece and nephews how hungry they were, and I understood what drove my brothers to do what they did.
I decided to seek assistance from the local government, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
I walked about 20 kilometers from the house to City Hall, the center of relief operations. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were waiting in line for food and other relief items.
I flashed my press ID, thinking I would be given special treatment. It didn’t work. I had to line up like everyone else.
I went home at around 2:30 p.m. I wanted to go home before it got dark. The city had no electricity.
The first night at Mang Ponyong’s house was eerie. The dogs were howling in the dark. The sea breeze was filled with the stench of death.
Before we slept, I asked my parents if they wanted to go with me to Manila. They said yes. We had an urgent reason to leave. My niece was suffering from heart problems and the medicines she needed weren’t available in Tacloban anymore.
The next morning, I walked again to the downtown area to reserve space in the C-130 for me and my family for the flight to Manila.