by the Editors
MILLIONS of Filipinos suffered the wrath of super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan). There are countless tales of death, loss and survival especially from Tacloban City, Leyte, which bore the brunt of the tropical cyclone.
Via a post on her Facebook account, Sheena Junia, 26, a close relative of OpinYon Chairman and President Ray Junia recounted how she had to surf the typhoon’s huge waves to save herself.
Here’s Sheena’s story:
She woke up around 5 a.m. of Friday, because of a loud bang on her door. It was the wind, much powerful than she was used to hearing. She could hear window glasses breaking from her neighbors’ houses. It sounded like the burst of automatic gunfire. Bad weather, she thought. She knew a strong typhoon was hitting the province. She saw it yesterday in the news. What she did not know was that it was going to be that strong.
Sheena tried to go back to sleep. She wanted to because she was too scared to listen to the howling wind. Maybe if she slept for a few more hours, it would go away. After two more hours of sleep, another huge bang on the door woke her up. This time, the wind was too strong that it knocked the door off, and then floodwater rushed in. She got up in a hurry. Her bed was submerged in water in seconds. It was now knee-deep inside her room. She hurried to get dressed but just after two minutes, the water has reached her waistline. It took her another two minutes to get her backpack and reach her new surfboard. It just arrived the day before. By then, the water was now neck-deep.
Surfing the Waves
Sheena mounted her surfboard and paddled her way out of the house. She couldn’t see anything. It was foggy, the water was black, and the wind was too strong that it was hard to keep her eyes open. But she kept paddling. She paddled against the strong current until she reached the entrance of their compound in Barangay Sagkahan Mangga, Tacloban City. She was hoping to find someone, but she could not see anyone or anything. Sheena said she decided to swim along the current which she knew would lead her to the back of the compound. There, she saw stairs that led to a door. She immediately paddled her way towards it, and tried to open it but it was locked.
She quickly stopped and noticed her bag was becoming too heavy, so she did away with some of its contents. They’re not important now.
If the water continued to rise, she might get trapped, she thought.
She knew she could not stay there, so she rode her surfboard again and paddled as hard as she could against the strong current to reach the front of the compound again. She saw a steel bar protruding from one of the broken walls nearby. She reached for it and held on to it tightly. Her surfboard kept her afloat. Every time the waves would hit her, she would fall off. But she was holding onto the steel bar so tight that she always managed to recover. She fell into the water about 4 times.
What felt like forever standing there-falling off-standing there-and falling off again was just really about 10 minutes.
The water kept rising, and brought with it more wood and other debris every time she opened her eyes. Sheena saw a woman floating. The woman—in her late 20s or early 30s—was alive. She appeared calm. The woman looked at her. She looked back. They both knew none of them would be able to do anything. She had to let the woman float away.
Call for Help
Sheena was just about to lose all her strength when she saw a group of people. In that group was a pregnant woman and a child–breaking a door open from a balcony nearby. She called for help. Most of them did not hear her, or maybe tried to ignore her. After a few more calls, one of the strangers looked at her direction. That gave her some comfort. There was nowhere she could plant her feet. She held on a window grill to start her way. She moved from one window to another until she reached the spot near where the other people were.
She was holding on to the grill, and her surfboard. She had to let one go so she can reach out for the hand of one of the strangers.
She took a leap of faith, and ditched her surfboard.
“I almost fell and barely made it,” she said.
The water was continuing to rise when she got to the balcony. They needed to move to the next house which was bigger. They passed through gutters and scaffolds. They all made it safely to the house, even if she slipped a few times. A few scratches here and there but nothing she was worried about it.
Riding the Storm Out
They stayed there, watching people drown to death outside. They could not do anything. This went on until around 10:30 am when the wind died down a bit. They started to help whoever they can.
Around 11 am, the water started subsiding, slowly unfolding the devastation caused by the strongest typhoon ever recorded in recent times.
Sheena remembers seeing a lot of dead bodies. Almost all houses in her neighborhood were destroyed. She had to stay at a friend’s house for three days. For the next few days, Sheena went out with her friends to look for food. Her friends have always treated her as one of the boys, so she went out to loot with them.
She remembers going to Robinson’s or Gaisano–malls that had supermarkets. “Literal na hanap buhay,” she said. (We literally looked for anything that can help keep us alive.)
She’s not proud of it—the looting.
“We had to do it to survive,” she said.
Hunger and Thirst
She remembers being thirsty, and trying to buy a small bottle of tea for PhP200. But they would not sell it to her. She remembers trying to ride a pedicab offering to pay a thousand pesos, but the driver did not want money. They wanted water as payment. She had none.
Sheena arrived in Manila Tuesday, Nov. 13, night via a commercial flight. She now has fever. She feels weak. She said whatever happened to her is just starting to sink in. She said she does not want to go back to Tacloban, but she has not heard from her mother and grandfather who lived in Tolosa town.
If she does not hear from them in the next few days, she will come back to Tacloban and look for them.
Sheena used to operate airport vans in Tacloban for a living. She does not know how she’ll start again.
“I won’t be able to make plans until I know my family is safe.”
Sheena’s fight for survival goes on.
- Rappler Newscast Special Edition | November 16, 2013 (rappler.com)
- Surfing the waves of Haiyan for survival (rappler.com)
- INC conducts ‘Lingap sa Mamamayan’ relief and medical mission in Tacloban City (businessmirror.com.ph)
- After Yolanda: When prioritizing the living over the dead is just another option (examiner.com)
- Meeting a monster: First person account (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Typhoon Yolanda death toll nears 6,000, Justin Bieber visits Tacloban (theglobaldispatch.com)
- Romualdez recounts how gov’t withheld help in ‘Yolanda’ aftermath (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned (vixsterbee.wordpress.com)
- In the eye of the storm: TV reporter tells his story (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Politics, lack of command hound Tacloban (rappler.com)