A Seafarer’s Wife Recounts Haiyan

Mrs Roseville Alon was a newly-designated Principal of the Obo-ob Integrated School in Bantayan Island, Cebu in November 7, 2013. She was still lactating for her 2-month old baby when the storm clouds of Super Typhoon Haiyan started gathering over the horizons of Bantayan Island, in northern Cebu. On top of that, her husband Samuel was a seafarer who had just left 4 days ago to board his ship, the Danish ship Kleivstrand, which was plying the Denmark – Norway route.

Rose knew her typhoon preparation drills well, so she went ahead to lead her teachers and students in securing the school. From November 6th to the 7th, the faculty, staff and students, together with some members of the Parents-Teachers Association, worked together to prepare the school.

First, she had all her important stuff such as electronic equipment plus books, important school records, etc transferred to the newly-repaired classroom which she felt would be the best place for protection against the storm. They had 12 classrooms in all, but all were old and needed repairs, except for one which was newly-renovated. She also made sure that the teachers took measures to waterproof their respective rooms as best they could, personally inspecting the rooms. Trees and plants – of which her school had plenty – had to be trimmed as well.

Rose then prepared her family at home. She bought some supplies, inspected the house for any exposed breakable materials, and instructed the family to sleep at the ground floor of their modest 2-story home. She had 4 kids, the eldest of whom was only 10 years of age. She also had two househelps, one of whom was dedicated to the baby alone.

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People were warned that the storm would be a strong one. (courtesy of bantayanisland.org)

Barangay officials started moving around telling the folks to avail of the town’s evacuation center. They warned that the storm appeared to be a strong one. For a while, Rose pondered on this, but decided to stay put at her house, confident that she had done everything to prepare for the worst, as she had done countless times before.

Times like this, she wished that her husband would be there to take on the role as the head of the family. But due to the fact that she had a seafaring husband, Rose knew she had to step up as she had been trained to do. She needed to be a ‘taynay’, which meant a father and a mother at the same time. But with 2 families to manage – her immediate family, and her school family – she simply had so much on her table to work on singlehandedly. But such was life, she thought. All she could do now, after reviewing her pre-typhoon routine, was to observe and pray.

At 6am on the fateful morning of the November 8, she watched the TV as the storm started devastating Tacloban. Within an hour, the strong winds would come howling like a banshee, giving her a chilling feeling she had never experienced before. Power went off, and she surmised that there probably were some trees, electric posts and lines already down.

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Early morning coverage of Haiyan. (courtesy of ibtimes.co.uk)

Outside the window, Rose saw the strong wind trying to uproot everything within her path.   Some trees were now down, and some houses had sustained some damages. She was lucky, she thought, that she had 2 big houses on both sides, which would somehow shield her home from the punishing winds.

And then, as suddenly as it came, the strong winds died down. People started to come out of their homes to assess the damage. They felt relieved that it was now all over.

Or so, they thought. After 10 minutes or so, the winds started building up once again. Only this time, the winds were stronger, noisier, and wilder. And it was now coming from the opposite direction. Within minutes, roofs started flying off like paper. Two neighboring families rushed to Rose’s home, as the winds had torn off their roofs easily.

Rose opened her home to her neighbors, even as she watched her children for any sign of fear or panic. She told her eldest daughter, Camille Grace, to lead the other 2 kids in playing and singing, just to get their minds off the ongoing onslaught outside. She did this while keeping her baby, Daniel, close to her lactating breasts.

And then their own roof started to pry loose as well. The noise became deafening now, and everything started to go crazy. Rose thought for a while of abandoning the house and proceeding to the evacuation center, but realized it would be even more dangerous now, with the debris flying everywhere. She started panicking. As if sensing her fear, her own baby started crying hard as well.

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The view outside the window was terrifying. (courtesy of youtube.com)

Faced with the crescendoing dilemma, Rose decided to wait it out, holed up at the ground floor of her home, while praying that her roof would hold out. She kept the children busy playing and singing, keeping them away from the windows for the risk of flying debris.

Finally, at around 2:30pm, the winds started to die down. The worst was finally over. When the skies finally cleared, people came out reluctantly, fearful of what they would find outside. Without power, there was no news and no instructions coming from the authorities. With the unimaginable damage, they did not know where or how to begin the recovery process.

Outside, it became clear that the damage they had sustained would be very extensive. Roofs were strewn all over. Electric posts were down. The big trees were felled, and what was quite amazing was that there were some coconut trees that were cut in half like mere toothpicks. Crops were razed to the ground, while their bancas – the fishermen’s source of livelihood – were scattered all over, totally wrecked and irreparable.

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Destroyed homes were strewn everywhere, (courtesy of brittanica.com)

Some homes had collapsed, while some had sustained partial damages. Almost all wooden huts were razed to the ground. Rose was fortunate that there were 2 taller concrete homes sandwiching hers. Both houses had taken the brunt of the punishment, shielding her partially from the deadly winds. Both houses sustained greater damages, with their roofs almost ripped off completely.

Rose made a brief inspection and gave a sigh of relief as she saw only minor damages to her home. There was damage on the roof and some windows, but that was all. The important thing was that the family was intact, and that their house had sustained minor damages only. But there was no power, no communication (the communication towers must have been damaged, she surmised), and limited supplies. She needed help. But there was no way to get help from the outside world.

The following day, Rose then set forth to inspect her school. Along the road, she saw how destructive the storm had been. Debris was strewn all over. In many areas, the streets were closed due to fallen trees or electric poles. Hence, people had to walk for the most part. Homes had collapsed, with valuable appliances damaged beyond repair. There was destruction and despair, there was panic and fear written all over the faces of the typhoon victims.

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Damages everywhere. (courtesy of redcross.org)

What Rose saw upon reaching the school moved her to tears. Only the newly renovated building escaped unscathed. The rest had either collapsed or had taken extensive damages, with most missing their roofs. The stage collapsed, some trees were down. Her treasured plants were strewn all over, as though ravaged by a pack of wild beasts. Many of the teachers lost valuable records as their files were totally drenched by the rains. Damage to the school was estimated at over P3M.

But even with the extensive damage, the school was still packed with families who elected to stay after their homes were wiped out by the storm. And Rose had no choice but to keep her gates open for the refugees of the disaster. Rose and her staff busied themselves converting the school into a temporary evacuation center, taking extra care of the old and the sick, the mothers and the babies. With 3 groups to take care of (her own immediate family, the school staff, and now, the refugees), Rose was being pulled in many directions. Without any contact with the outside world, she felt abandoned and lost. No matter, she thought, there was work to do.

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More damage. (courtesy of sphereproject.org)

It would have been so easy for her to give up and cry. How she wished that Sam was there to help her out. But with the school staff looking up to her to provide leadership, and with her children needing her, she had to brace up and show strength of character. To her, there was simply no other option but to maintain a calm, straight face.

Finally, 2 days after the storm, a brother would arrive from mainland Cebu. With this development, she decided to evacuate her whole family back to her relatives in Compostela, Cebu. Besides, her helpers were also now insisting on leaving to take care of their respective families in Bantayan. She was lucky to be able to board her family in an overloaded ship ferrying evacuees back to mainland Cebu.

It was only upon reaching the mainland that she was able to get in touch with her husband. It was only now that she could finally let go of the facade of calmness and control. Sam had been worrying no end as the social media accounts of the storm had depicted a tale of terror in Bantayan. He had feared the worst. Hearing Rose’s voice and learning that everyone was safe was just a great relief for the harassed seafarer.

But this was not the end of their sacrifices yet. Rose had to leave behind her 4 kids – including the poor baby – with her sister in Compostela so she could rush back to help her beleaguered school. DepEd had declared a school holiday for 10 days in order to accommodate the homeless families that continued to occupy the school.

Upon her return to Bantayan, Rose worked feverishly to try to restore what was left of the school. She felt blessed that the families who were now staying in the school would help her clear the place of debris, and repair what was still reparable.

Mayor Chris Escario of Bantayan would help out as best he could, providing supplies. He requested for an extension of the school holiday to accommodate some families that had not been able to find a place to stay.

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The road to recovery begins. (courtesy of rappler.com)

Classes would resume shortly. Sadly, two of her students would be so traumatized by the storm that they would refuse to go back to school. Hence, teachers were told to look for tell-tale signs of shock among the kids. Teachers strove to keep the students busy, to take their minds off the Haiyan Disaster. Classes then were held in makeshift rooms, tents or under the shade of fallen trees.

And so it was with great relief when Habitat for Humanity Philippines informed Rose that her school had been chosen to be one of the recipients of a school building courtesy of the Sailors’ Society. It was indeed an answered prayer, she cried. Everyday, she would witness the hardships her pupils were going through, and it was as difficult for her as well.

The Sailors’ Society donation of 1 Noah’s Ark classroom had 3 toilets, plus a kitchen. Habitat volunteered the design to be easily convertible into an evacuation center. Hence, it was a big boon in that it would now become the school’s Disaster Response center. It was also the first additional building given to the school, the others being simple repairs provided by the students, the PTA, and other well-meaning organizations.

This joint project from Habitat Philippines and the Sailors’ Society was the first of many more blessings that the school would receive. Rose felt proud that it had to be a group related to her husband that would be the first to extend help to her school. And she beams about this everytime she gets to talk about the classroom. Today, the school has grown in population, and its classrooms have increased as well. They even have a computer room complete with accessories, courtesy of other well-meaning friends of Habitat.

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Rose in front of the Sailors’ Society gift.

At the homefront, Rose continued to struggle. Her kids remained with her sister in Compostela, and she would tirelessly take the long trip across sea to be with her children every Friday, before reluctantly returning back to Bantayan on Sunday afternoon. It would be a weekly ritual for her – even if she was sick or tired or busy – for she cherished every small opportunity to be with her kids. Besides, she no longer had any househelp with her in Bantayan, hence they felt it wise to have the kids stay with her sister in the meantime.

Six months after the calamity, in May 2014, Rose’s husband Sam finally had his vacation leave. His arrival in Compostela was a joyous, emotional occasion. The family was now reunited. It was only then that they would decide to bring back the family to Bantayan. Finally, their house in Bantayan had become a home once more.

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Rose with her family a year after the storm.

For more related stories on Typhoon Haiyan:

A Survivor’s Story

‘A Survivor’s Story’: The Aftermath

Turning Life on the Flipside

Habitat’s Extraordinary Englishman

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14 comments

  1. I remember seeing a video, where two men tried to capture the typhoon on their handycam and one guy let go of a wooden beam for a second and was swept across the balcony, the typhoon was ready to claim him too and would have if not for the metal railing, nature is certainly not something to be underestimated.

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    1. Not to worry, my friend. We have our share of of those as well. But we did witness the outpouring of support from all over the world after that storm. In fact, yesterday we sent off a great bunch of Canadian volunteers who worked with us buildings homes in Bantayan for 7 days. These were 7 young ladies and gents whose warmth and generosity gave inspiration to the victims here.

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  2. thank you, sir chay, can’t explain my emotions upon reading this blog, mixed indeed, there’s still the pain coz we’re still on the process of healing/recovering and happiness for i was able to witness the love, compassion and mercy of God thru the wonderful people He sent who helped and sacrificed a lot for us Bantayanons so that we can get up and get back to shape. We are so blessed God protected our family from the wrath of Typhoon Haiyan. My gratitude to the Seafarer family of my hubby, to the worldwide community, the wonderful people who visited our school, OBOOB INTEGRATED (local and foreign friends) and those who shared their time, effort and treasure, rebuilding our school buildings so that our school children will have conducive classrooms. The support you’ve extended to us really inspired us, making us realize that life is still wonderful! For now, our prayers for you always. May God continue to bless you and your family.

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    1. It is you we must thank, M’Rose, for you have been that pillar of strength for the community. Without your sterling leadership, it would have been more difficult for the people of Sulangan to recover from the devastation caused by Haiyan. Once again, my salute and my warmest thanks.

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