‘We might have been killed if not for Tatay’
TACLOBAN CITY—Stroking the aching left side of her neck, 13-year-old Mary Jane Bacsan held back her tears as she recounted how her father saved his family but lost his own life as Supertyphoon “Yolanda” unleashed her fury on central Philippines two weeks ago.
Her bangs clipped back from her face, Mary Jane nibbled on a cracker that social workers had given to her family and neighbors sheltered at Redemptorist Church, their temporary home after Yolanda (international name: “Haiyan”) destroyed their houses and everything else they owned.
“I thought it was the end for us,” she said. “It was so dark and the sky was creepy. If not for Tatay (Father), we might have been killed.”
Mary Jane, the eldest of five children, drew a figure of her father, Jonathan Bacsan, on a piece of plywood during an art session with Philippine National Police personnel conducting a stress debriefing session for child survivors of the storm on Wednesday morning.
Her father, a pedicab driver, battled a storm surge that engulfed their house in Magallanes village here, saving her aunts and cousins—10 in all—her brother Jonathan junior and herself before being hit by a corrugated tin roof that the storm’s monster winds flung their way.
Mary Jane’s four siblings and mother, Maria Agnes, who is six months pregnant with her sixth child, sat around her as she spoke about her father’s sacrifice.
She said she drew her father’s figure to describe her feelings when she heard the word “sad.”
Mary Jane also drew figures representing her family, all present there despite the loss of their belongings.
That, she said, was her representation of the word “happy.”
Her mother said they all thought Yolanda was just like any other storm so they were not prepared when the supertyphoon struck.
Maria Agnes said that despite her pregnancy, she mustered all of her strength to swim to safety with three of her children—May Joy, 11; Giovanni, 9; and Nina, 2.
When she saw the water rising to the first floor of the house, Mary Jane said she grabbed her school project and her father’s earnings and ran up to the second floor.
Before the storm surge, her aunts and cousins, whom she said were too many to name, came to their house seeking shelter. They were crammed on the second floor when the storm surge tore their house apart.
One by one
They clung to any part of the house they could reach and Jonathan senior took them one by one and swam to higher ground where they would be safe.
“I called out to him when I felt I couldn’t keep us alive anymore. I was weak from holding up my brother above the water. I was almost drowning,” Mary Jane said.
She said she and Jonathan junior were the last ones their father was trying to save when the tin roof hit them.
The impact almost knocked her unconscious and wounded her brother on the head. Jonathan junior sustained shallow cuts and bruises but survived.
But the metal sheet’s edge struck their father in the neck, she said.
“We found him later on a piece of plywood near our house,” Mary Jane said.
Holding back tears, she recounted how he took a deep breath and looked at all of them before closing his eyes.
“We knew he was dead,” she said.
Mary Jane understood that her father was a hero, but she said she preferred to have him back alive than just remembering him as a hero.
“That’s what happiness means to me. I don’t care if we don’t have anything left as long as we have him with us,” she added.
But life must go on. Safe now, Mary Jane said she wants to go back to school, but helping her mother, who is due to give birth next year, was also a priority.
“I want to make my father proud of me,” she said.
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