Surfing Haiyan's waves for survival
MANILA, Philippines – Millions were affected by super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan). Each one of them with their own stories to tell.
Sheena Junia, 26, posted about her "adventure" on Facebook. In a phone interview with Rappler, she shared the full account of how she survived the storm.
Here's her story:
She woke up around Friday, November 8 at 5 am 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 an armalite went off.
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.
Despite the alarming noise, she tried to go back to sleep. She wanted to because she was too scared to listen to the sounds. 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 hurried to stand. She did not have a bed frame. Her mattress, and everything else were submerged in seconds.
It was now knee-deep inside her room.
She rushed 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.
The water was now neck-deep.
She 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.
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 continues 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 tight, along with the surfboard that got her there.
She stood on the broken wall that housed the steel bar. 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 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.
She saw a woman floating. The woman was alive. Late 20s, early 30s maybe. She looked calm. She was not shouting. Just floating.
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.
She was just losing strength when she saw a group of people – about 5 of them: in that group was a pregnant woman and a child – breaking a door open in 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 seemed to give her 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 near where they 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.
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 got weaker. 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.
She remembers seeing dead bodies. Almost all houses were destroyed.
She stayed at her friends’ house for 3 days.
From Friday to Monday, the girls would stay at home to clean, while the boys would go out to look for food. Her friends have always treated her as one of the boys, so she goes out to loot with them.
She remembers going to Robinson’s or Gaisano – malls that have supermarkets. "Literal na hanap buhay,” she said. (We literally look for what can keep us alive.)
She’s not proud of it. We had to do it to survive, she said.
She remembers being thirsty, and trying to buy a small bottle of C2 for 200. But they would not sell it to her.
She remembers trying to ride a pedicab offering a thousand bucks, but the driver did not want money. They asked for water from her as payment. She had none.
She arrived at Manila Tuesday night via an airplane.
She now has fever. She feels weak. She said whatever happened to her is just starting to sink in.
She does not want to go back to Tacloban, but she has not heard from her mother and grandfather who live in the municipality of Tolosa.
If she does not hear from them in the next few days, she will come back to look for them.
She used to operate airport vans in Tacloban for a living. She does not know if she’ll get her job back or how she’ll start again.
“I won’t be able to make plans until I know my family is safe.”
Sheena finds herself still paddling, this time against fate's cruel tide.