“Kuya” is the Filipino term of respect for older brother. Big brother was what Mark Anthony Lacanaria felt he had to do well last Nov. 8 when news reports and local leaders announced a “super typhoon” was underway.
On his trip to Manila with People Surge alliance of Haiyan victims preparing to meet Cardinal Luis Tagle in April, Lacanaria told Catholic In Asia the ordeal his family and community of Diit, Tacloban City, went through before, during and after typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), which left his community in shambles. His story follows: (translated from Tagalog)
We are five siblings – orphans – and I’m the eldest so I felt responsible for everyone’s safety. Two days before the typhoon our barangay (village) was preparing for the super typhoon. I asked my younger siblings on the eve of the typhoon to help me tie down the roof so that at least there will be some “yero” (galvanized iron) left should the wind get vicious. As it turned out the typhoon would not just come after our roof, but ate up our whole house!
We’ve experienced many typhoons before in my 30 years in this world, but nothing with this strength of the wind and this severe flooding.
My wife is a DH (domestic helper) in Malaysia. Our daughter was in Guiuan (Samar) where my in-laws live.
Preparing for Yolanda (Haiyan)
On the eve of the projected arrival of the typhoon, many residents left their houses for higher ground. Many others didn’t want to leave their property.
Past 5 a.m. Nov. 8, I told my siblings to cook noodles so we can feed the children (nieces/nephews) breakfast before the typhoon came. After we ate, I sent away my younger siblings and three of my nephews and nieces to a house not far from ours but on higher ground. Four of us brothers stayed behind with my pregnant sister who was worried about leaving her belongings.
Saving my family
Wind came first. It was powerful and sounded like a machine was ripping off the galvanized iron from our roof. Around 7:30-8:00 a.m. was when the water came into our house. It was as if a fireman pointed his hose at our front door and turned on his power hose. Water gushed in, only it was black. In a few minutes we were swimming out through my bedroom window, one behind each other.
When we looked back in just a matter of minutes and about 3 feet way the water had swallowed our house. It really didn’t matter that many of us were good in swimming. We just stayed steady and allowed ourselves to flow with the tide because if you tried to swim, you might hit what was under water – iron roofing of houses, broken glass, huge posts with nails, so we couldn’t swim.
Our youngest sibling got cut by yero because when he kicked to swim he hit something.We were dragged by the water to a huge mango tree so we hung on to its branches and watched our whole barangay disappear under the water. My brothers and pregnant sister began crying.
We managed to float past the tall wall of a warehouse near our house so it blocked the water from coming so fast at us. We got lucky with that wall. Four pairs of us floated around, including a couple whose wife was also very pregnant, and an elderly man who was yelling at the top of his lungs, but we couldn’t hear him at first because the wind was very loud. In the beginning I wondered whether we had been dragged to sea because I swallowed water several times and it was really salty. It wasn’t rain water.
When we got to the tree, I told my sister to clasp the tree. She wanted me to go back for her children, but I told her, later on. The water had not completely subsided.When it did it left so many bodies scattered around our community. People began crying.
We gathered together wherever we were those of us who survived. I saw a man and his sons Christian and Alwin. Alwin grew so pale after having blood ooze out of a cut on his arm from flying roofing material. One of the sons is only 2 years old.
The children were in a house that was on higher ground but they still had to climb up into the ceiling They squeezed in there, eight families. When I saw them after the flood, I was just so grateful that the ceiling didn’t collapse. They were all wet and very scared. I just left them there first.
I climbed a nearby hill farther from the seaside. I looked down and saw from our barangay to the downtown areas. It was like everything was swept away.
Our barangay is Diit. It is a slaughterhouse for cattle. We live near a slaughterhouse. The meat from there is sold in the market. I used to work there. My parents worked there too. So all the dead were scattered around the grounds – carabao, cattle, pigs, dogs and people. People looked at the corpses to find relatives. They began wailing in chorus.
In our entire region, it really wasn’t made clear to us what was the projected viciousness and power of this typhoon would actually be. They said “storm surge,” but we didn’t know what that was. Even Mayor’s (Alfred Romualdez) family didn’t seem to know. Although they kept saying the words on tv, it wasn’t clear to us how strong would be the impact and that there would be this rising water.
I sent my brothers out to gather anything we could eat. That was the first thought that came to mind. This will be a big long period of hunger.
Cut off from the world
Meanwhile, my wife was very worried because she couldn’t reach any of us from Malaysia. It was Nov. 24 when we were finally able to talk. She didn’t know what happened, how we all were. Our daughter was in Guiuan (Samar) and my wife had heard from the news the typhoon first hit landfall in Guiuan and they showed scenes of the wreck it left there. But my in-laws had less damage than we suffered in Diit.
I wondered why no help was coming. I told my siblings I thought they were saying on tv that the government was very ready with help for us before the typhoon struck. They were reporting there were ready relief goods. Where were all these goods?
For days nobody came to us. Then finally after about 4 days media came. But their chopper didn’t come down. It just hovered above us, maybe scanning the area. Maybe they were headed somewhere else. It was the fifth day after the typhoon, soldiers came in trucks, but they were just clearing part of the way. They didn’t bring food or anything. That’s why I suppose looting began.
We are far from the mall area but we were so starved for five days taking in only water that we gathered from containers floating around. We boiled it because we weren’t confident they were safe. We only found coffee and some crackers and whatever snacks.
We even found discolored rice already spoiling, but we cooked it just the same because the children were getting hungry. It came out sticky because it soaked in water already. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, and I was amazed that the children ate it. I prayed so hard that they wouldn’t get diarrhea, and they didn’t. We older ones couldn’t eat it.
After a few days, I could no longer hold back my tears. I thought where was that help that the government said they were ready with? So when news came to us about looting, my brothers said, “Kuya let’s go downtown and get food.” But I told them it was too long a way and the roads and bridge may not passable even by foot. We couln’t bike because there were so many dead bodies scattered around. If we would just get material things it is useless. I told my siblings what we need is food.
Relief in a washed away ship
Word arrived there was a boat that was dragged by the winds to shore not too far from our community. More important, we heard it carried 8 thousand sacks of rice. I climbed and squeezed into the boat to grab as much rice as I could for my family and neighbors. I got one sack of rice and split it in two. Half sack I gave to the owner of a house in our barangay that allowed us all to stay in their house for about 2 weeks while we were building a makeshift house from scraps. The other half sack I split into eight families. My sister, my aunts, uncles.
In the malls, victims may have taken food. If there were appliances taken, those aren’t legit victims, but maybe professional thieves or syndicates from neighboring towns or provinces. Imagine, they reportedly had vehicles. We in Tacloban had no vehicles. They all went underwater.
Our third brother brought his son to Caloocan (Metro Manila). The boy is so traumatized by this experience. He’s afraid even of rain and just if the wind blows the window.
Here in Diit, we went ahead and gathered scraps from wrecked houses and tried to build a makeshift house for my siblings before I left for Guiuan. My sister is just weeks away from delivering her baby. I didn’t know where to take her and how the hospitals were. We had no clue if the hilot (community midwives) had also been washed away.
Tears of joy
All the time I worried inside me about Guiuan where my in laws and daughter were. I heard it was wrecked also. I was very nervous. I didn’t know anything about them. When I arrived there I was so relieved to see they were all okay. They too were worried about me. Everything was wrecked there, but it was mostly very powerful winds. Water didn’t go up. They said they worried that I was drowned also. My daughter, 7 years old, was crying and crying. They were teasing her that I might have drowned.
While I was in Guiuan to help my in laws clean up my friend came to Diit to say Makabayan group was holding relief operations. I looked for him after returning to Diit and I volunteered for relief operations. We went around remote places not reached by the donors and aid.
I couldn’t stand the scenes. My thoughts went back to the scenes in Diit on the first day of Yolanda. I could not imagine how it must have been for these people in the hinterlands with few places to run to. A child would come up to me to ask for rice and other food, and in my mind would come pictures of my nephews, or older relatives. “Kuya give us water, do you have water?” they said. My tears kept filling my eyes.
When I heard there would be a big rally in Tacloban last Jan. 25, I decided to join because I experienced everything the organizers were describing not only in my personal experience, but also those of people we were bringing some relief goods to. I learned about the rally from my companions in the relief operations. I heard there would be a big mass action to demand help for typhoon victims. It is just right that what is for survivors should be given to us. We learned that at the height of relief operations, NGOs and international community were donating funds and goods for us survivors, and yet the relief goods being handed out by LGUs were not enough for all.
Suddenly DSWD declared that they would stop handing out relief goods after December. When that announcement was made, I confirmed my decision to join the Jan. 25 rally. I felt the situation was already overwhelming and I couldn’t be a good provider to my family on my own. The government was stopping relief operations even before the situation has been reversed.
I felt all Eastern Visayas victims had been set up, not only people in Tacloban. They didn’t dialogue with us. It was like we were just floating that time. We didn’t know where to ask or get help. There was nowhere to go. We could see some foreigners arriving, but they had no way to distribute their goods. There’s no system. I heard about People Surge and the movement led by Sister Edita (Eslopor, OSB) to add my voice to the rest who were calling for the same things and asking same questions I had.
Manila sojourn, Cardinal Tagle
I joined the group that came to make our situation known in Manila officials and people. At least each of us represents a town and sitio in Eastern Visayas. We went to Malacanang, but we weren’t entertained. Only DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) secretary saw us. Now we will go to each official of government. We want to show them we are here trying to get what is given for us. This is not a field trip. I hope Cardinal Tagle will face us and listen to our pleas because we are legitimate victims that were devastated by the typhoon. We aren’t beggars.
End of Part 1/ People Surge