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Four Haiyan stories of fear, the fight for survival

5:24 PM, Nov 14, 2013   |    comments
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TACLOBAN, Philippines - Four people recall the horror, the fear, the fight for survival brought about by Typhoon Haiyan.

A GRANDMOTHER'S LOSS

Narcissa Abordo, a 65-year-old grandmother from Tacloban, awoke to the sound of the winds of Typhoon Haiyan about 3 a.m. last Friday.

She got up and eventually woke her two grandchildren to do what she usually does in the mornings: make them breakfast since her daughter, the children's mother, lives in Manila.

Suddenly she heard the sound of burbling water and saw what looked like a "black whirlpool" outdoors. They had no time to do anything but get out immediately.

Her boarders helped take the children outside and to the second floor of a neighbor's house for safety. The water, she says, rose to 13 feet in 10 seconds.

Abordo and her son were swept away by the rushing water. They were carried past houses submerged up to their tin roofs. They grabbed and held on to dangling electric wires. Abordo's son carried her on top of his shoulders when they came to shallower water.

She pleaded with her son, "Please save yourself. I am already old. You can leave me. You are young." He answered "No mom, I will never leave you."

Their elation at survival soon turned to despair when she sought out her grandchildren. Abordo was told that one child got nervous because the water was rising and jumped in, and that shortly after, the other child jumped in. The children were crying and yelling "Mama, Mama, Papa," she said.

Her grandson's body has been found; her granddaughter is still missing. "I think she is nearby," Abordo said. "I saw her skirt when I walked down a street."

FIGHTING A DIFFERENT WAR

Leslie James Thomas, 68, an Australian, survived the Vietnam War. He was not sure he would survive his vacation in the Philippines.

At 4 a.m. Friday morning, he was roused from his sleep by noisy winds and an incredible "bang" at 5:15 a.m.

"I looked at the window and saw two iron sheets flying," he says.

By 6:30 a.m. his basement was filled with water and rising quickly. He decided he had to get out. He grabbed his passport and wife and went out the door. Something struck him, and he fell over.

"The intensity of the wind was so great that I was like a piece of paper," he recalls. "I got hit by different things so many times; we were trying to walk along but we couldn't because the power of the wind and water was so incredible.

"We just held onto whatever we could grab," he says. "My wife and I climbed the concrete and braced ourselves, the debris started to come: timber, refrigerator; wood and debris."

The stayed on a elevated spot away from the house for three hours. Water kept rising around them. The wind was still blowing when suddenly the water began to recede. By noon it was safe enough to go back to their home.

"The windows were all blown out; the rain was like bullets," he says. "I was terrified. Every time I thought the worst was over it was getting stronger."

He looked around in the streets to see those who were not so lucky.

"I saw a man carrying a 2-year-old dead girl and laid her on a canvas. She was there for two to three hours and then someone took her to the trucks where all the bodies were being placed."

'A HORROR STORY'

Reynaldo Diaz, 63, had a mild stroke in 2002 but it did not stop him from saving the lives of those around him when Typhoon Haiyan barged in.

Understanding the danger that lay ahead, Diaz made a plan. One child was asked to be a lookout over the bay and told that the minute he saw seaweed, they would evacuate to higher ground.

Diaz recalls: "The water was rising. We evacuated at my mother's place. The house was still dry. We went to the second floor. Then the strong water broke the gate and it rushed into the house, taking the glass windows one by one."

A dozen people, ranging from 17 to 67 years old, moved to the balcony roof, but the water kept rising. Eventually, Diaz decided it was safer for people to transfer to the next house, which had a third floor.

The water rose to 5 meters in less than a minute. He says, "People were terrified that they had to cross over walking on a high fence. They had to hold electric wires to get from one point to another."

Diaz asked two boys to help him - he stayed at one end of the fence, positioned one boy in the middle and another at the other end.

"It was like shooting a horror movie and I was the director," he says. "I told people to calm down and just to focus, to think positive, to think happy thoughts as they crossed over. "

All of them did, and all of them are alive today.

But not everyone was able to save themselves, or have someone to save them.

The next day, Diaz started cleaning and thought he found a doll in what used to be his dining room. Says Diaz: " I realized it was soft and when I cleared the mud and debris, I saw it was our 7-year-old neighbor."

LONG DISTANCE CONCERNS

The Onida family in Tacloban lost everything in the typhoon. The worst loss, by far, was that of the family patriarch, Salvador Onida, 83, who drowned.

Yet there was one family member who had no idea what had happened to him or others in the family.

Evelina Onida, daughter of Salvador, had moved years ago to Illinois. With phone service and Internet service out in Tacloban, Evelina was frantic to hear of the family's fate.

For days she sought word via Facebook and Skype, the way she usually communicated with friends and relatives in the Philippines. All the while she could see that it was her hometown that had been devastated by the typhoon and thousands there were dead.

Before Typhoon Haiyan hit, Evelina says she had a premonition. "I was at a party of my friends when I was in the cellar and I see some shadows," says Evelina, a nurse. "I have a bad feeling when I see that typhoon coming."

Her family in the Philippines was equally worried about her not knowing anything. Evelina's older brother, Nelo Onida, had one request of a reporter who interviewed him in Tacloban. Would he please tell his sister about her father's death and their survival?

He had no phone number for his sister, and said only that she had moved to Chicago about 18 years ago and had a husband named Richard Whitaker.

After some research it turned out Evelina lived in Des Plaines, Ill., and when contacted by a reporter she had already heard the news from her younger brother, Noel Onida, who had managed to get a ferry to another island where there was Internet service.

Evelina says she last talked to her dad on his birthday June 24. She told him she would send him money for a present.

She worries about the rest of the family. "They have no place to stay, no food to eat," she says, her voice cracking. "They're waiting for the relief. Their houses are all gone. All my friends' houses, my mom, my sisters' houses, all gone."

Evelina, 49, came to the United States in 1995 with $50. She married and has a home in Des Plaines and in Florida. She was trained to be a nurse in the Philippines and said she saved hard to do well in America.

She wanted her family to know that she was sending help. She was mailing food to her niece in Cebu, hoping it will get to her family in Tacloban.

"I buy some food for them, canned goods, sausage, corned beef, Spam," she says. "They have no food. I pray they get it."


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