The morning Typhoon Yolanda made landfall, Ann called her family on Samar Island to check on them. All she heard was howling wind, commotion and confusion. Someone began screaming “Run, run!” The line went dead. She could not reach them again, for the super typhoon had knocked out all communications on the Island.
“The last time I was able to talk with them was 6:30 in the morning,” Ann said. “And after that, no more. For five days I have no communication with them. I almost get crazy. I cannot eat, I cannot sleep. I keep on praying and shouting, ‘O God, O God, please save my family!’”
For those five agonizing days Ann, who like many Filipinos worked abroad and sent remittances home, sought to get release from her employer in Saudi Arabia to fly back to the Philippines. Every night she would weep and feared the worst for her family. The news on CNN and BBC did not give her any hope to hang on to. Thousands dead, entire villages wiped off the map, tens of thousands more missing, and millions displaced. The metropolitan city of Tacloban right across the bay from her home, a busy port town of over 200,000 residents, was leveled and in chaos.
She feared the worst for her immediate family, especially as the official lists of the deceased began to be published.
“I saw in my Facebook all the list of the body counts,” Ann said. “They were all my aunties, my relatives.”
As she completed the long flight back and the even longer journey through the storm ravaged landscape of Samar island, she could not have believed what awaited her. Of the more than 2,000 homes in her sub-district of San Antonio (called a “barangay”) in Basey, only 27 remained standing, and none of those without significant damage. Her own home was gone, with not even the foundation remaining. Her surrounding neighbors dead, swept away by the torrent of the 10-12 foot storm surge that inundated this coastal village.
But to her great joy and surprise, amidst the rubble and ruins of the community, she found her entire family alive. Their story is incredible. Her son had moved into a residence recently constructed by the church building on their land. This concrete structure, with 4-6in thick walls, looked like a bulldozer had rammed into it, but three of its walls and its roof remained intact. When the storm surge demolished the wall and immediately threatened to drown him, his wife and children, he broke through the ceiling panels and pulled him and his family up into the rafters.
It was almost not enough. The raging waters chased them to the very top of the house, and left him and his family precariously clinging to the rafters and a compromised outer wall for hours. In the darkness of the stormy dawn the typhoon hammered their home with almost 200 mph winds and the storm surge frothed and foamed below. In the midst of the storm the son lost his toddler twice in the rising waters, but managed to rescue her both times.
In the church building next door the local pastor, Pastor Allen, also fled with his wife and five children to the rafters of the church by tying a small rope around the rafters and climbing to safety. The pastor and his family managed to survive the stated that three times his toddler fell from the rafters into the water below, and three times he had to jump in to save her in the midst of the raging floods.
Others in the community were not so fortunate. Some who lived in simple stick and thatch homes had no chance. The wall of water that leveled the entire village annihilated these homes and swept away all in them. Some managed to cling to trees and climb them with their families, holding on despite the record winds of the typhoon beating against them. Others disappeared in the churning waters, to be found days or even weeks later under the mountains of wreckage and debris. Ann said there were at least 50 dead in the community, with others still missing.
Ann said no one was untouched by this storm. Everyone lost something or someone. Ann, with tears in her eyes, thanked God her family was still alive, despite losing everything else. She counted it a great mercy of God that He spared her family, but was moved with compassion for those who lost all. She could begin to rebuild with her husband and son, and the church that still stood could serve as a center to help minister to others who lost far more precious things than buildings and goods.
This is Ann’s story, just one of the thousands to be heard across Samar and Leyte Islands where the brunt of the storm was felt. The scope of destruction is staggering, as is the deeper effect on the minds and hearts of those who survived. As the immediate needs begin to be filled by international and domestic relief agencies, the longer work of rebuilding shattered lives begins as well. Pray for the many pastors, missionaries and Christian relief workers yet laboring quietly in these devastated villages as they seek to bring healing and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ to those who have survived the storm. You can follow the Christian Compassion Ministries group, a Philippine-based relief group we had the pleasure of working with that is actively involved in both physical and spiritual aid to the Typhoon Yolanda victims, at their site here: CCM – Typhoon Relief Efforts