CEBU City—Dinah was on the very first C-130 plane that flew out of Tacloban in the aftermath of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” November 8 marks two years after the world’s strongest landfall-recorded storm hurled Samar and Leyte into its worst tragedy.
I met Dinah in Cebu today while working on a community health project. In casual conversation, I discovered that she was a “Yolanda” survivor. On the morning of the 8th, she was at her sister’s home in San Jose, one of the most devastated towns in Leyte.
For two hours, she, her seven-year-old niece, her sister, and brother-in-law hung on to dear life as they lay on the roof of their house. “You couldn’t even stand because the wind would blow you away!” she recalled.
The water had risen so quickly, it was by grace that she decided early on to climb the roof with her niece. Her sister and her husband made it out in the nick of time, just as the water had reached their chins.
Dinah and her niece lay on the rooftop, looking up at the dark skies, battered by the rains and the wind. She hugged the child to her chest, never letting her go. She kept her cool, and kept praying while keeping time. “I would tell them how many hours had passed,” she recounted. “One, two, three, and then it became eerily quiet.” And then the waters began to subside.
Their first thought was to keep safe and find the fastest way to get out of Tacloban. Their home was about a kilometer and a half from the airport, so at the break of dawn they began their trek. They managed to find a wheelchair for her sister’s mother-in-law and decided to bring along other able-bodied family members, including a pregnant sister-in-law. Soon their group of four became eight.
The streets were strewn with debris and dead bodies, left, right, front and center, Dinah said, but they kept plodding on. When they got to the airport, there was a newly-arrived C-130 with media, perhaps the first ones on the ground. Dinah and her family were ushered into the plane where they were given first aid.
A nurse by training, she did what she could to help the injured despite her own injuries. “It was really like a war zone,” she noted, “and we were all like bloodied soldiers who had left a battlefield.”
Airborne, everyone in the plane was silent and in a daze. “But when the plane touched down at the Ebuen Air Field in Cebu,” Dinah pointed out, “we all broke into applause, relieved at the knowledge that we had fled Tacloban.”
But the joy was temporary and bittersweet, she said. “We all fell silent because many of us did not know what had happened to the rest of our families.”
After five days, Dinah learned that her father had been excavated from the rubble on the day “Yolanda” struck, and managed to survive for five days. Her sister, a pediatrician, had fought valiantly to keep him alive, but there wasn’t much they could do.
They buried him in the vacant lot next door and reinterred him in the public cemetery six months later.
Seeing Dinah today, one would not think that she lived through the horrors of that day. However, she said that, even today, when it rains very hard, she still becomes anxious.
Her sister’s family opted not to return to San Jose, and instead chose to build a new life in Cebu where they now live.
Dinah, now a district manager for a local pharmaceutical company, said that “Yolanda” taught her three important lessons: In a crisis situation, don’t panic; God makes all things possible, and if it’s His plan for you to survive, you will make it; and do not be attached to material things. “Life and your loved ones—when you have that, it’s all that matters.”