As the waters from the storm surge whipped up by Typhoon Yolanda rose around them, my mother ordered the members of our family huddled around her to link arms.
“We must be together, in death as in life,” she told them in our native Waray.
Nanay, Tatay, four of my siblings and three of their children were at a neighbor’s house in our village in Tacloban City, sheltering from the full fury of Yolanda on the morning of November 9.
The water was beginning to swallow up the house, and my family was trapped on the roof. My mother feared they would not survive.
When the sea swept in, driven by the typhoon’s fierce winds, it laid waste our village, which is on Tacloban’s coastal fringe.
There was nothing left of our house, I found out when I arrived in Tacloban the following day.
Yolanda had not yet made landfall when I called up from Manila my older brother Jesus on the afternoon of November 8. I told him to tell everyone to prepare to evacuate, before the storm hit.
They were all packed and ready to leave at a moment’s notice, Jesus assured me.
The plan was to move to a neighbor’s house, which was sturdier than ours and on higher ground.
I became more worried as I listened to radio reports that the typhoon was closing in. I called Jesse again at 10 p.m. to check if the family had left our house. They had not.
I was frantic. “This storm is twice as powerful as Ondoy,” I warned Jesus. “Leave now!”
When I called again at about 4 a.m. the family had transferred to the neighbor’s house. My brother said the rain was pouring and the wind was getting stronger.
That was my last contact with my family. I tried calling later but the line was dead.
When the first live videos of the typhoon lashing Tacloban were flashed on TV, my anxiety grew. I wanted to know what was happening to my family.
They went through a living nightmare, they would tell me after we were reunited.
They didn’t stay long at the neighbor’s house because the floodwaters were already lapping at it. They moved to another house where they thought they would be safe. But it wasn’t long before the flood forced them to crawl into a space between the roof and a terrace. There was nowhere to go after that.
Drenched, tired and with little hope of being rescued, my family clung together, resigned to their fate.
No one even remembered that it was the birthday of my brother, Ryan Vincent. But it was not a moment for celebration.
My mother said that there were signs of hope that somehow lifted her spirits. My nephew, four-year-old Randy Jr., was oblivious to what was happening around him. “He kept singing Wonder Pets (the theme song of a popular children’s show on TV) and Lord Patawad,” Nanay said. “That gave me strength.”
Soon after, several empty water containers floated by. My mother ordered my brothers to grab the containers and screw their caps on tight. They used the containers as flotation devices.
The family also watched in horror as a woman on the roof of a nearby house was struck in the head by a piece of roofing that the gale-force winds had sheared off. “She fell into the water, face down,” my mother said. “We thought she was dead.”
After several minutes, the woman revived. “I took that as another sign that we would survive our ordeal,” Nanay said.
Help finally arrived a few minutes later. Neighbors braving the rain and wind threw a rope to my family and fetched them one by one.
They transferred to the house of a Mang Ponyong, one of the few structures the floodwaters didn’t reach. Several other families had taken shelter there, and the house was packed.
It was at Mang Ponyong’s house where I found my family on November 9. I had taken one of the first flights from Manila to Tacloban, a military C-130 plane ferrying policemen and relief goods to the devastated city.
There were no words during our reunion, just tears of relief.
I brought my family to Manila, where we plan to put our lives back together again. We realize it’s not going to be easy, but we will draw strength from the hope that kept my family alive in the midst of the raging storm.
Nanay told me that the night after the storm, “the sky cleared and the stars came out.”