- Posted December 3, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Typhoon Haiyan: Your stories
Hanging on for life: A Yolanda survivor’s tale
At 5 a.m. on November 8, 16-year-old Samantha Alfabete and her family woke up to the strong rains and howling winds brought by Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), but believed their preparations had been sufficient.
“I was texting with my classmates until 7 in the morning. Then the network signal went down and the roof just flew off our house,” recalls Samantha. The family was still reeling from the shock when the rush of water took down their door and entered the house, immediately reaching knee-high.
Although their house was elevated, flood waters were rising fast and could already submerge a person. (Of course, they would later find out it did—and killed thousands.) Samantha and her family moved from the bedroom to the kitchen. By this time, the water was already up to their waists.
Samantha lived with her mother Rosalie, three younger siblings, a cousin, and their 70-year-old grandfather Ricardo in Tacloban, Leyte, near the coast.
“My cousin broke the kitchen window. From there we just started floating, and my siblings and I held on to the branches of our neighbor’s avocado tree. My mom and grandfather grabbed hold of the trunk. The others stayed on the neighbor’s roof,” Samantha said. “The rain was so strong and felt like we were being pricked by needles.”
The flood seemed like a tidal wave, describes Samantha, which engulfed the town in a matter of hours. The water was black with crude from a leaking motorboat and oil tanks in a factory nearby. Her family struggled with the surge of water—they fought hard to breathe and inevitably drank the black water.
Samantha’s younger brother John Dave and a few others stood on a galvanized iron sheet (yero) but before they knew it, it flew off the house, taking John Dave and four people with it. The family feared the worst, and believed that was the last they would see of him.
No one in the family knew how to swim. “It seemed like that was the end for all of us,” she said. “If the water went any higher, we would have surely died.” By 10 a.m., the water started to subside. The survivors huddled in a two-storey apartment building and shared whatever food, water, and clothing they could use.
At 1 p.m., Samantha’s family received good news John Dave suddenly appeared, saying he survived by putting styrofoam in his clothes, wearing a helmet, and hiding inside a refrigerator, all of which he found while floating. A family fished him out. But when they decided to turn him over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), John Dave got scared and ran back to the subdivision.
They spent the night in the apartment, crying and praying. “Lord, give us the strength to end this. Give us a second chance to change,” was Samantha’s prayer. After three days, they moved to Leyte National High School, which had been turned into an evacuation center and relief operation headquarters for local and international agencies.
“We started to fear for our safety and health,” said Samantha’s mom Rosalie. Looting was rampant in the days succeeding the typhoon. It was hard to locate the bodies due to scattered debris, and only when they started to smell could they dig it up. Rosalie was worried the small amount of food they were getting might run out and water would be contaminated. Another foremost concern was her younger daughter’s broken right arm. Hospitals were not functioning and medicines were sorely lacking.
They hitchhiked in a friend’s car and asked to be brought to the airport to join many others lining up for as long as five days to board the C130 planes bound for Manila. After a day, Samantha found out they can be on the priority list because of her family members were in need of medical attention.
“I lost track of what day it was,” Samantha said when asked what day they arrived at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay. At the base, she approached SM Foundation Inc.’s Operation Tulong Express and was given slippers, food, and medicines for her family. A freshman at Leyte National University, she is one of the scholars of the foundation, the socio-civic arm of the SM Group of Companies.
At first, she felt shy introducing herself even if she recognized the people distributing relief goods as her interviewers. She deeply appreciated how her family at SM Foundation Inc. were the first ones at Villamor Airbase providing assistance to the survivors from Visayas.
The next day, Rosalie’s sister picked them up and took them to her home in Parañaque City, where they are currently staying. The family has not fully recovered from what they experienced that fateful day of November. But one thing is certain: they will return to Tacloban once the situation has gone back to normal.
“We’re trying to entertain ourselves to forget what happened,” said Samantha. Rosalie encourages her children to talk about their experience so they could get over the harrowing memory. After all, the most important thing is that they all survived. This seemed to work as Samantha can now manage to smile while retelling her story—a wonderful glimpse of the Filipino’s indomitable spirit.
In the photo:
Samantha (rightmost) lost her home and personal things—clothes, books, family albums and all—when Typhoon Yolanda struck her hometown in Tacloban, Leyte. This is one of the few remaining photos she has in her Facebook account. Since surviving the storm surge, her family has been residing with relatives in Manila. Also in the photo are her sisters Nicole (left) and Athena.