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Surviving Typhoon Hiayan

  • Written by Proffugazi
  • February 1st, 2014
  • 5 min read



This is a personal account of my experience during Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). As I would discover later, this was the most powerful Typhoon ever to hit land in recorded history. On November 8, 2013, I had been living in Tacloban City, Philippines for a little less than a year. I had no idea what to expect from this storm as I had never been in a typhoon before. Reports stated that it was expected to be strong, but I think no one actually knew just how powerful this one would become.

Early news reports forecasted a strong storm expected to hit landfall on November 7th. I had prepared on November 6th by stocking up with food, water, and a few candles. My thoughts were that electric power would be off for a few days. (Note: Two months later the electric is still off for most everyone.) The 7th came without any evidence of a storm. The forecast was then revised to the morning of the 8th. The Philippines government had implemented plans before the storm, with staff deployed to Tacloban City only to become victims themselves. The government's response has been criticized but I think perhaps it is a little early.

I awoke early the morning of November 8th to strong winds and rain. It was like a strong rainstorm. Was this a typhoon, I thought to myself? The locals will sometimes refer to a rainstorm as a typhoon, so it would not be unusual to hear this description. Soon after I had prepared my morning coffee the electricity went out. While power outages are not common here, an occasional storm will cause a brownout for a few hours. I enjoyed my coffee, unmoved by the storm outside my home. As the morning wore on the wind increased as well as the rain. Now, the rain was blowing sideways across the recessed porch of the entrance to my apartment on the second floor. As I looked out my window the rain and wind steadily increased in intensity. I could see the tall, sturdy coconut trees bend, and the leafy branches on top turning sideways much like a flag blowing in a strong wind.

I understand now, this is a typhoon. As I looked out the window the sky was a mass of light gray with only an glimpse of the mountains and bent coconut trees. The noise was something like a jet engine at idle. This was clear evidence of nature's way of letting us know just whom is in control. A quick, sharp knock on my door revealed my landlord, and a group of adults and children from the penthouse upstairs. The glass was blowing inside and shattering on the floor of his spacious apartment so he sought shelter in my well protected apartment directly below.

By this time I had made a short video just outside my door from the protection of the recessed porch. Just after I ended the video recording a school across the street begin peeling its metal roof much like a quick flick of a deck of playing cards. One panel came flying across my building to land in the coconut forest just past the parking lot. I quickly decide that now is the time to retreat inside my apartment. The force from the winds was so strong it took two men to close the door behind me. Pressure was so great I opened some windows that were not facing the storm for relief. As I would later discover a friend's van lost its windshield, when it was obviously sucked out not to be found anywhere.

While this is certainly a typhoon, the full fury is yet to come. The intensity increased to a light gray blur as I looked out the window. No mountains or coconut trees were visible. The sound reached a pitch of a jet airplane on take off. The only way to talk was yelling fairly close to the ear. The noise of the collision of debris against the buildings were barely audible over the sound of the driving wind. As the typhoon changed direction it blew the kitchen exhaust fan straight out of the wall and across the room. By now children are crying in their mother's arms and an American guest from the upstairs apartment is leaning against the door, holding it shut from fear it would break the lock and come crashing inside.

The typhoon slowly rotated about 90 degrees to a different direction and gradually decreased in intensity. This ferocious storm slowed and ended after about four hours. Later that day, towards evening, another warning was circulating about a tsunami heading for Tacloban. I didn't believe it as I understand a tsunami to be an earthquake at sea. However, many of the shocked victims did and I could see the flashlights of people moving up the mountain. There was some truth to the report as huge tidal surges had struck the shores of Samar and Leyte. These surges were estimated at up to ten meters high. I believe that many of the deaths were due to this surge. The so named Astro Dome, a large circular convention center, located on the shore was a typhoon evacuation center. This large building was engulfed by a huge surge that begin to rapidly fill the building causing many deaths and injuries. An expat reported looking out at the sea to watch the water recede about one hundred meters prior to the surge. This ominous sign likely saved his life as he began a hasty retreat to high ground. An Australian in his seventies told me that surge quickly filled his home as he climbed to the roof of the second story and held on tightly until the typhoon passed.

About four hours in duration Typhoon Haiyan left incredible destruction. With over six thousand dead and about two thousand missing. I believe the death toll will likely rise as many among the missing surely some were washed out to sea, never to be found. As I traveled throughout the devastated city there were dead bodies of children and adults trapped within the rubble. These were mostly good hard working people. I found them to be honest and always friendly. With the strong family ethic of Filipinos the impact of the loss of a loved one is devastating yet, I see them two months later rebuilding their homes, trying to make a living and attempting to put their lives back into some kind of order. Many of these good folks lived day by day, carving out a meager living before the typhoon, now the challenge is even greater.

A one minute video of Typhoon Haiyan just outside my apartment.