I was 18 when Super Typhoon Sisang (designated Nina) slammed into the southern part of the Philippines, most especially the Bicol Region, where I was studying. It sustained winds of 275 mph as compared to Ketsana's 105 mph. Sisang/Nina was (at that time) reportedly the worst typhoon to have hit the Philippines in 20 years. I was in the dormitory, in bed, on the second floor, with no clue as to what was to come. Suddenly, I heard and saw girls screaming, doors slamming so hard, beds flying outside the window - yes, from the second floor. All of us who could pry our doors open ran downstairs, and huddled close as the winds continued to lash against the windows. Then the building shook. The piano in the corner slid to the other end. Other furniture followed. Broken glasses. More screaming. Flooding in. I remember hugging two of my friends and praying out loud, "Jesus, save us."
We stacked chairs and furniture one on top of the other as high as we could and perched on top, my fellow dormers and I. I helped remove shards of glasses from the arms and legs of the other girls who were unfortunate enough to have been by the windows when the winds lashed their fury.
We waited out the 'eye of the storm.' It was past midnight when the stillness engulfed us. Nobody slept, to say the least. Morning greeted us waist-deep in water. No breakfast, of course (I was mildly amused despite the situation), but everybody talked of going home, which was 60 km away (1 1/2 hours) for me. I packed whatever I could and started off with my friends. As the dormitory was inside the university campus, we had to walk through the maze of corridors in order to get out.
There was no university in site. One building was ground to a pulp. The rest was a sight to behold. Flood and debris everywhere. Hugging my belongings to my chest, I gasped when, thigh-deep in water, I saw a rat, about a foot away from me, swimming for dear life. It was then that reality sank in.
No transportation (we took buses). Landslides everywhere, buried bridges. We walked. Not the whole way, but miles and miles and miles of it just the same.
Home meant overlooking the moon at night as part of the roof was ripped off from my room. One friend joked he had to enter their house by the window. It was the only one open. Many more were worse off, as they had no houses left.
The whole thing meant no electricity (I think in the whole province) for 3 months. None. I do not know when we resumed classes (I was in my second year of Nursing) but when we did, it was in a modified building. No fish on the table. All sorts of stories like finding fingers and rings inside fishes' bodies circulated. And plenty of dead. I heard a story about a body floating from one town to another. And not enough coffins. The local priest had to minister benediction to bodies rolled in mats. And at least one woman went crazy looking for her dead. I heard these stories. And there were many more.
Ketsana's damage was in the unceasing rains, causing the 20 feet flooding, a catastrophe unheard of in more than 20 years. I perched scared and cold on top of chairs many years ago, while many of the recent typhoon survivors ENDURED hopeless days and nights on rooftops, not knowing if they would live or die. There is no fear like the fear of the unknown, and certainly the fear of death.
I am almost ashamed to admit that I do not know how I would have survived Ketsana with only the clothes on my back, and my undying faith.
Especially since my sister says the pedicab driver across the street continues to mindlessly ferry people to and fro while playing Christmas songs.
I thank everybody who has joined me and millions of others in the crusade of helping the calamity victims not only in the Philippines but also in Vietnam, Indonesia and the American Samoa. As we sleep tonight, many of them are still hungry or in search of their loved ones, or sick and injured. Let's keep them in our prayers. Many, many thanks, and God bless us all. ~~~ To those who still want to donate or help spread links to relief centers, please check out my older posts. Thank you for your kind heart.