Edgardo Almazan lost his wife and 3 children to a typhoon called Yolanda. One year after, he waits for them to come home.
Text, Photos and Video By Patricia Evangelista
10:26 AM, Nov 08, 2014
Edgardo Almazan II was an easygoing sort. He wanted to be a soldier, but settled for a job as a security guard when he discovered he was missing the necessary inches. He was working at a mall in Cebu when he met a woman – the woman.
Her name was Jocelyn. He said she was tall and kind. And sexy, he said, don’t forget sexy, she was very sexy.
Edgardo Almazan II, formerly of Tacloban City, sometimes called Totoy, proceeded to fall in love. He wanted to marry Jocelyn, but she refused. Jocelyn was happy enough to be Edgardo’s girl, told him he was a real manly man, but she liked her job and she liked her life, and was not ready to trade it all for a husband and a passel of babies.
Edgardo waited. One day, Jocelyn told him she was pregnant and demanded he marry her. Edgardo was happy to oblige. He had proven he was a man, and he had won the woman he loved.
Edgardo’s child was born on the 30th of November 1999. When the midwife said his firstborn was a boy, Edgardo took one look and decided the only proper name was Edgardo Junior.
Jocelyn, still sweating from the birth, put her foot down. There would be no more Juniors or Edgardos in her family.
The boy was named R-Jay instead – the R from Edgardo, the J from Jocelyn. The other children followed, one after another, until Edgardo had contributed 4 Almazans to the already sprawling clan. Edgardo did not mind. He wanted more.
One day Edgardo’s parents came to Cebu, and told him life would be better back in Tacloban, where construction was booming and there was always family next door. Edgardo packed his bags and turned in his badge and brought his children and the tall Jocelyn – sexier than she was when they first met, according to a smug Edgardo – to Village 89, Payapay.
Edgardo built a house along the edge of the coast, and was happy he never had to pay rent again. He worked construction the first six months. When he had saved enough, he bought himself a bushel of fish and set up shop as a vendor in the market.
Life was good, said Edgardo. R-Jay was in his 3rd year of high school. Eileen Joy was in her 2nd year and busy impressing her teachers. Ned, who was 11, was in the 5th grade. Four-year-old Edelyn Mae was the baby of the family, a giggling girl who ran to her Papa at the end of each day to pat his pocket for coins to buy candy she hid from her Mama.
One night, the news shows were talking about storm surges and a big typhoon. Edgardo didn’t know what a storm surge was, but what he did know was he could always repair the damage to his house the next day. He told Jocelyn to take the children with her to his brother’s house.
Jocelyn refused. No, she said. We stay home with you.
So Edgardo opened a bottle of Grande, drank with the love of his life, under a sky he now swears was clearer than any he had ever seen.
The wind came first. One moment they were 6 people snug inside a house, the next the house was gone, smashed, and the water was rising slowly.
Then there was a roar of sound, an explosion. The world, said Edgardo, went boom.
It was the first of the surges, a wall of black water punching through the village. There was screaming and shouting. Jocelyn disappeared. The two girls disappeared. Edgardo found himself fighting the current.
He saw R-Jay, and grabbed for his son.
Then there was a roar of sound, an explosion. The world, said Edgardo, went boom.
Hold on to me, he said.
No Papa, not me. Get Ned. I can swim, and Ned can’t.
So Edgardo let go, chose to save the smaller boy instead, found Ned half drowning in the water. He thrust the boy into a thicket of water lilies and told him to grab on and hold tight.
Then another surge came, and Ned was gone.
Edgardo clutched at the water lilies while the whirlpool crashed around him. He was crying, he was screaming. He called for Jocelyn and R-Jay and Ned and Eileen and little Mae. He shouted until he was hoarse.
There was no answer.
After the storm, Edgardo climbed down. He could hear crying, he could hear voices pleading, he could see the corpses tumbled over each other on the wet ground. He walked, for hours, calling for his family, looking at the dead. A neighbor stopped him – they had found his son.
He found Ned at a church, in shock. Edgardo caught him up in his arms, then told him to stay put. Papa had to go. Papa had to find Mama and the others.
Edgardo spent a week hunting for his family. He checked every body for Jocelyn’s black leggings and white socks. He dug into cadaver piles and in trash bins. He didn’t sleep, didn’t remember to eat, and for days walked with a raging headache.
He never found Jocelyn, or R-Jay, or Eileen or Mae. He searched for a week, and found his mother’s body.
Now the slightest wind shifts the tents in their moorings. Walls are ragged and stained. Rats scurry through gaps in the canvas. Flies come in clouds. The air reeks of sweat and last night’s sardine dinner.
Under a canvas sky
The tents empty after sunrise. The villagers stream out, loaded with school bags, stoves, towels, changes of clothing, everything needed for the day. To leave anything behind means having to step back inside, straight into a canvas oven where the temperature makes even plastic forks hot to the touch.
This is Payapay, Village 89, Tacloban City, one year after Typhoon Yolanda. The city government puts the number of families still living in tents at 353. At least 63 of those families are here, the tents lining the small field in haphazard rows, ropes crisscrossing with laundry lines. The tents run the length of the road, facing the water and the ruins of what were once beach houses for the city’s wealthy.
When they were distributed in November 2013, the tents were cream-colored and sturdy, the blue logos standing out in the devastation of Tacloban after Yolanda. They sprouted everywhere, between broken pillars, inside the skeletal remains of abandoned houses, on basketball courts and in school gymnasiums.
Now the slightest wind shifts the tents in their moorings. Walls are ragged and stained. Rats scurry through gaps in the canvas. Flies come in clouds. The air reeks of sweat and last night’s sardine dinner. On rainy days, floodwater soaks bedrolls, and pours through roofs. Dirt coats the plastic sheeting and the inner walls.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the tents are built to last a year, for as long as they are set up according to guidelines. Very few guidelines were followed in the desperate first weeks after Yolanda left corpses and debris across the city.
For almost a year, Edgardo has lived with Ned in a tent they share with another family. The canvas is spotted with dark mold. The ropes are wrapped in thorns and vines. Ned’s sneakers are shoved under a bench, beside Edgardo’s old leather shoes.
Edgardo has few complaints. It could have been worse, he says. He has layered his canvas roof with a sheet of plastic. The ground is higher – unlike his neighbors, he says laughing, his mattress does not turn into a waterbed after a night’s rain. He was told there is an organization that will provide materials for a new home. He hopes it will be soon.
Edgardo smiles, often. Laughs at himself, often. He ruffles his son’s hair, gets Ned ready for school, does favors for neighbors and keeps up with the family laundry. He has learned to put together dinner, but he misses the taste of his wife's cooking.
Edgardo is not angry. Lonely, sometimes, sad, sometimes, but there is always brandy, and his brother willing to drink with him – another man who lost a daughter to Yolanda.
On November 8, 2013, a fish vendor from Tacloban named Edgardo Almazan II lost the boy he wanted to call his Junior. He lost his wife, he lost his daughters, but he believed, in the months after, that R-Jay survived.
It is R-Jay’s birthday in a few weeks, and Christmas in a month. He hopes they will come home in time.
On Christmas Eve, he waited by the tent door and watched for the boy he chose not to save, but the boy never came.
One year ago, more than 6,000 men, women and children were lost to a storm named Yolanda.
Today, Edgardo believes not only that R-Jay is still alive, but that his wife and daughters also live.
He hopes they will come home in time. It is R-Jay’s birthday in a few weeks, and Christmas in a month. He is preparing another Christmas dinner – noodles, because his wife loves noodles.
He has a message for his family, especially the boy he should have saved.
I’ll wait for you, Jocy, he says. Papa loves you, Eileen. Come home, Edelyn Mae, Papa saved a shiny coin just for you.
Sorry, he says to all of them. I am so sorry.
Jay, he says, Jay, if you can hear me, please forgive me. – Rappler.com
For Rappler's full coverage of the 1st anniversary of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), go to this page.