Nov. 8, 2013 started out like any normal Friday for DJ Pesado, a fourth year BS Materials Engineering student from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. Though she knew that a strong typhoon would hit her hometown in Tacloban, Leyte soon, she initially shrugged it off.
“Sanay na naman kami doon sa Region VIII, na laging dinadaanan ng bagyo (Coming from Region VIII, we are already used to being hit by typhoons),” she shares. DJ even had prior contact with her sister, who is in Tacloban, the night before Supertyphoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan) hit their hometown.
Her sister told her that though it was already Signal No. 4 in Tacloban, there was nothing to be worried about.
“Normal lang sa amin na mag-imbak ng food, mag-aayos ng bahay kung may mga tulo (It was normal for us to store food and to fix our roofs when there’s a leak),”says DJ.
She only started to worry on the day of the storm surge, when she saw footages from a major news network of the extent of the damage caused by Typhoon Yolanda across Tacloban. In her 20 years of living there, DJ said she has never encountered a storm that strong in the typhoon-prone region.
DJ tried texting and calling her family in Tacloban, but to no avail. It was about the same time when she learned from news reports that all communication lines were cut in her hometown.
DJ was in UP that day, attending her classes. But she couldn’t focus, knowing all too well that their place back in Tacloban, V&G Subdivision, was a flood-prone area.
“Kung may bagyo, lagi yang may joke sa amin: ‘Oh, may barko na ba sa V&G? (Whenever a storm comes, there’s always this running joke in our area: ‘Oh, are there now ships inside V&G?’),’” she recalls.
DJ soon found that the recent storm was no laughing matter for them.
Data from the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Council show at least 1,774 were reported dead across the country, with thousands more injured and at least 82 people missing.
Police estimate the number of casualties to reach up to 10,000 people in Tacloban City alone. The towns remain without power and communication signals as of this writing. Families remain in evacuation centers, which are running low on food and water.
Much to her chagrin, people who lived in places not affected by the typhoon even found humor in the disaster. For them, she could only say: kung alam niyo lang (if only they knew).
But she knows that she cannot blame those people. DJ admits that she has had her own share of indifference in past disasters which occurred in other parts of the country.
“Parang ganun lang din ako, [kasi] wala namang effect sa akin yung mga nangyayari (I was like that, because the disasters didn’t affect me before),” she recalls.
But as someone who has directly experienced fearing for one’s family and loved ones in a typhoon-ravaged area, she gained a new perspective.
“Since nabaliktad, naramdaman ko na yung sakit, yung inis. Parang, marami na ang namatay dito, ganyan pa rin kayo? Pero…di ko na sinasabi explicitly. Nasa isip ko na lang kasi yun nga, I was in their shoes once (Now that the tables have turned, I can now feel the pain, the frustration. I can only think: many people have died here, but why are you like that? But… I don’t say it explicitly. I keep it to myself, as I was in their shoes once),” she said.
But the Internet and social media had their use for those like DJ, who are on the lookout for any information about their loved ones. She said they were helpful especially for those who had no means of communication to Leyte and Samar.
Despite the convenience, she could not help but be wary, as some data were unreliable.
“Since walang makaka-verify sa info posted, it’s up to us kung maniniwala kami o hindi. Pangit man o hindi ang info, iniisip na lang naming na sana ma-verify na lang agad (Since no one can verify the information posted, it’s up to is to believe it. Bad or good, we just hope that the information may be verified soon),” she said.
DJ has tried the Google Person Finder and the different trackers set up by media organizations, but has so far failed to receive any word from her family in Tacloban.
Some towns are worse off, as DJ cites examples of her friends who do not have any news whatsoever about what happened in their respective hometowns, such as one from Dulag, a coastal area in Leyte.
These areas are given very little attention, unlike Tacloban, Palo and Ormoc as seen in the news, she adds.
But until they know nothing from their families, the best DJ and the others who have families afflicted by the typhoon can do is to help.
Since the typhoon hit, DJ devotes her spare time at the local branch of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) or in various relief operations set up by local governments, colleges and universities.
DJ appeals to the public to donate relief goods and help in their packing: Kahit kaunti lang talaga na tulong, okay na yun (Small efforts to help [typhoon victims] are enough).
She adds that pity alone is not enough. “Hindi kami makakabangon kung awa lang ang ibibigay (We won’t be able to recover on pity).”
Though not everyone can relate to what she is currently going through, DJ wishes they would be sensitive enough to know how the calamity has affected an entire region.
Homes, establishments and sources of livelihood were left as scrap as the supertyphoon hit Tacloban. Those left standing were ravaged by survivors, in search of food and supplies to get them by.
With her story, she hopes that the impact of the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda goes beyond the pictures that one now sees frequently in the media.
“Maramdaman na rin sana nila kung gaano kalala ‘to (I hope they realize how serious the situation is),” says DJ. “Life goes on here. Hindi lang namin mapigilang umiyak paminsan. Paano babangon ang Leyte at Samar? Back to scratch lahat (Life goes on here. We just can’t refrain from crying sometimes. How will Leyte and Samar recover? Everyone goes back to scratch).”
For DJ and her friends who came from Eastern Visayas, the whole experience is painful. “Dito, wala lang siya. Pero doon, wala talaga. Tumigil ang oras (Here [in Manila], it’s nothing. But [in Visaya], nothing’s left. Time stopped),” says DJ.
“Tumigil ang buhay sa amin.”
UPDATE: DJ was able to contact her family on Tuesday afternoon. Her father said they were all safe, and are surviving on relief packs from the Department of Social Welfare and Development.