Imelda Rona (left) and sister Inelda Pablo stand outside Pablo’s house in Tacloban. Both say that their relationship has helped them get through the hard times since the storm.
This is the first of four “Humans of Climate Change” stories from Tacloban, the Philippines. Tacloban was one of the cities hardest hit by the 2013 supertyphoon dubbed “Haiyan” internationally and “Yolanda” in the Philippines. For an overview of the storm’s impacts in the region and the influence of climate change in increasing the severity of tropical storm impacts, visit the series introduction here.
Rona and I talked in her sister’s house in early February, and she recounted her experience of superstorm Haiyan (called ‘Yolanda’ in the Philippines).
“Before Yolanda it was sunny and normal…I was thinking ‘it’s not true…’” says Rona. The family planned to stay in their home to ensure its security in the aftermath of the storm.
“We were 7 there, and the coconut trees were swaying, then I heard something at the back window, and I went to look. A huge wave was coming. We were only shouting and praying to God. The water rose to our chests and then up…and we were all against the ceiling and we tried to break through.” There was a small hole for phone and electric wires in a plywood section of the roof. They pulled at it, trying to widen it enough to fit through.
“One of the children shouted repeatedly, he was 5 years old, ‘Lord forgive us so we can live again’…But it wouldn’t break.
“And then finally it did…it was a miracle.
“We got onto the roof, but we were worried then about flying debris and about the still rising water. The roof was beginning to separate.” The family cast about for any floating objects that might help them survive.
The roof came apart, “and we fell down into the water. I tried to calm down, and pretend we were swimming at the beach…I found a pole, and climbed up until it stopped, but it was still below the water.” She kicked off the pole, and finally made it to the surface.
She climbed back to an intact part of the roof. Her husband surfaced next, and she threw an empty water jug to him, and then one by one the rest of the family came up and swam to safety. Her son surfaced last, holding his own son in his arms.
Then, Rona says, “we felt the roof lifting underneath us, and realized we were already floating.” They floated up on that section of roof as the water rose, she estimates, to twice the height of their one-story home.
“My daughter was already closing her eyes, saying ‘I’m ready for whatever will happen.’”
They floated as the winds continued to blow. The storm was so dark that it was hard to tell what time of day it was. Then they noticed the water going back down, and rode the roof down until it rested in the skeleton of their old house.
After the storm, they slowly rebuilt. “The kitchen was all that was left. We slowly rebuilt, the bedroom, then the sala [living room].”
Like many women in post-Yolanda Tacloban, Rona and her sister have found themselves shouldering much of the responsibility in rebuilding their families’ lives. Between caring for their families and selling food in a school canteen, the sisters say they regularly work 14-hour days. The two are constantly joking with each other, and say that their relationship has helped them as they continue to rebuild.
“I am happy, thankful we survived,” she notes. Her oldest son is married, her middle two children have government jobs, and her youngest will soon graduate from college, where she studies agrarian reform. and office administration.
But even as they fight to regain their livelihood, Rona says, “Times have become more dangerous than ever.” The construction of a seawall through her community threatens her family and neighbors with eviction, and there are times when it’s hard to make ends meet.
She recalls a time when she was with her grandson in the market. “He said ‘Yolanda was very bad.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Before [the storm] you would let us buy anything at the store, now we want and can be hungry.’”
[Translation provided by Dean Lacandazo of People Surge, an Alliance of Disaster Survivors in Eastern Visayas]