A 31-year-old Canadian engineer traveled more than 8,000 miles from Montreal to Manila and braved the odds to get to his Filipina girlfriend who was seriously injured in Ormoc following the devastation brought by supertyphoon Yolanda.
Houssam Hammoudi found her girlfriend, Mary Grace Acojedo, in terrible shape in a rundown clinic in Ormoc and brought her to safety in Cebu where she is now undergoing treatment for her injuries.
They got engaged last Tuesday and are planning to get married next week.
Now, that’s what you call “whirlwind romance.”
“He is my angel. Without him, I could not imagine what will happen to me in Ormoc,” the 22-year-old Acojedo said.
Houssam and Mary Grace have been constantly communicating through Facebook and Skype, a voice over Internet protocol service, days before supertyphoon Yolanda made landfall last Nov. 8.
“She’s been telling me how they’re preparing for the coming of the typhoon,” he told Cebu Daily News.
Ormoc City was among the areas declared under storm signal number 4 immediately after the Joint Typhoon Warning Center assessed Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) as a category 5 howler..
The day Yolanda made landfall in Eastern Visayas, Mary Grace was no longer online as all communication lines in areas where Yolanda passed got down.
A clear picture of the degree of devastation in Yolanda’s path came a day after the storm roared through the Visayas after power and communication lines were partially restored allowing journalists to post pictures of Ground Zero to the world.
Houssam, who was anxiously awaiting for updates in Montreal, was shocked with what he saw on TV.
“I know there was something bad that happened and it is a matter of life and death here,” he said.
Friends who knew that Houssam’s girlfriend is from the badly-hit region immediately passed the hat after learning that he had sold his car for $800 to help fund his emergency trip to the Philippines.
“I was really planning to come here in May. I’ve already booked my flight,” he said.
On Wedneday, Nov. 13, or almost a week after Yolanda struck, Houssam hopped on a flight that took him to Manila.
Arriving at dawn the next day, he met up with his girlfriend’s brother, Nathaniel who works as a call center agent in Cebu. They tried but missed to get into a ferry bound for Ormoc. “There were so many people wanting to go to Ormoc. It was difficult to get a seat,” he recalls.
They finally got on board a fastcraft and they arrived in Ormoc at 2 p.m.
Houssam and Nathaniel rushed to the Acojedo residence and found the house in ruins. They then found Mary Grace in a clinic where neighbors took her for treatment.
And for the first time, the couple met face to face and dissolved into each other’s arms.
Mary Grace broke her jaw, wrist and finger and had deep cuts in the face and body. She badly needed surgery including one that would save her leg from amputation.
“I did not expect him to look for me. I told my mother to tell him not to come over and just tell him that I was fine,” she said.
Houssam immediately paid for her medical bills. He carried her out of the clinic and walked 500 meters before they found a tricycle that took them to the pier.
“Naulaw pa jud ko kay bug-at baya kaayo ko pero gipas-an jud ko niya aron lang makasakay mi og barko,” Mary Grace told CDN.
(I was so embarassed because I was heavy and he carried me all the way up to the boat.)
Arriving in Cebu, Houssam took Mary Grace to a private hospital where she underwent further surgery.
Hammoudi has spent close to half a million pesos for Mary Grace’s medical care including a series of surgeries.
He launched a blog called “Operation Saving Grace” where he narrated how he ended up in Ground Zero and appealed for donations.
Two days since his blog went live, he was able to raise close to half a million pesos which will be used for Mary Grace’s treatment.
There are more than 700 people from different countries who extended help to “Saving Grace.”