2 weeks after `Yolanda’, tragic tales still haunt Hernani folk
Survivors Maricel Jerusalem and Mercy Calvadores of Hernani town in Eastern Samar recount their harrowing near-death experience when the deadly Supertyphoon “Yolanda struck Leyte and Samar islands. Hernani Mayor Edgar Boco, on the other hand, stresses the need for the townsfolk to be able to regain their livelihood since he says they cannot rely on relief in the long term. VIDEO BY RYAN LEAGOGO/INQUIRER.net
HERNANI, Philippines – Maricel Jerusalem thought her baby was dead.
She clutched two-week-old Fatima as a storm surge attacked the town of Hernani in Eastern Samar and toppled the house they were staying in last November 8.
Unable to swim out the window, they escaped when the roof came apart and the strong waves carried them to the nearby rice field.
“Hindi ko sya binitawan. Nakainom po sya (ng tubig). Inakala ko nga patay na. Yung mata nya tumitirik na (I held her tight. She drank seawater. I thought she was dead),” she said.
Weakened and dazed by the devastation wrought by super typhoon “Yolanda,” Maricel entertained the thought of leaving her child behind. But instead, she tried pumping out the water from the baby’s frail body.
“She cried (showed signs of life),” Maricel said, relieved that her baby had survived.
The 30-year-old mother said they did not expect the sea to rise as high as a two-storey house. They had evacuated to their cousin’s house, thinking they were safe and high enough, far enough from the sea.
“We didn’t expect that. I can’t believe I was able to swim towards the rice fields.”
She and her baby braved the waters, alongside debris of houses and trees that pummelled houses and killed dozens of people, until they were brought to the fields. She couldn’t do anything but swim and cling to her baby and the hope of living.
Maricel said the sea surged at least one kilometer inland, devastating everything in its path.
It also took her 11-year-old brother Martin.
“My mother and father said Martin was swallowed by the waves,” she told INQUIRER.net from their makeshift house.
She recalled how the house they sought refuge in toppled, its foundations destroyed by the huge waves.
Her parents, together with Martin, escaped through the window. Unfortunately, they were separated by the strong current.
“Nawala sa paningin nila (si Martin). Hindi naman nila mahagilap dahil sobrang lakas ng alon at tsaka mahangin. At tsaka yung tubig hindi mo makita (yung ilalim). Sobrang taas ng tubig (They lost sight of Martin. They couldn’t look for him due to strong waves and strong winds. The water was deep too they couldn’t see its bottom) ,” she said.
Maricel said her other brother found Martin’s body near a tree.
“We weren’t even able to see him,” she said, unable to hold back her tears.
The young boy’s body was among those retrieved by the authorities for mass burial.
Crying, she said, “Wala na kaming magagawa. Pero pinagpapasalamat na lang namin sa Diyos na hindi nya kami pinabayaan. Kahit kinuhaan nya kami ng isa, at least meron pa rin kaming nai-save na mga bata.”
Similar stories were shared by the residents, now living in tents or alongside the ruins of their houses.
Mercy Calvadores smiled at us as she recounted how her house saved at least 53 people.
She said they themselves were supposed to move to higher ground when the residents near the shoreline sought refuge in their home. The water rose fast and hit hard. Soon, more than 50 people were crammed in the second floor of their house. But the surge did not stop.
“When the current become stronger, my brother opened the ceiling and all of us hid there.”
At one point, the surge grew even stronger, destroying one part of the ceiling.
“We were not harmed because we were at the other side and the hollow blocks (at the middle) buffered the waves. But when the sea surged, the water entered the ceiling. People were shouting,” she said.
Mercy thought they were going to die.
“We were just waiting for the ceiling to collapse. But with the mercy of God, it did not.”
She said that while 53 people survived, five were not able to reach the ceiling and drowned.
“But this (house) really saved us,” she said, gesturing at the ruins as she did the laundry.
Inside of what was left of the house, clotheslines were set-up. With the front and back of the house destroyed, Mercy washed her clothes, overlooking the open sea.
In other parts of Hernani, women were doing the same. A couple of them were washing their clothes at what used to be the public market.
Only the posts were left of our houses, they told INQUIRER.net. Now, they live at the market, one of the few structures with parts of its roof intact.
Hernani Mayor Edgar Boco said four of the town’s villages were “100 percent washed out.” As of Thursday, 69 bodies were retrieved and four were still missing.
“We knew it was a super typhoon but we did not know that the sea (will rise) and destroy our houses,” he said.
Boco said more relief goods are reaching the municipality of Hernani but they are controlling its distribution.
You can’t constantly give relief goods to the people, he said, adding that people might “abuse” the system.
“Magpapakabusog yan (They’ll gorge themselves),” he said.
Boco explained that most of the people in Hernani lost their livelihood.
“We do not have (motor boats for the) fishermen, no copra, no rice to harvest. People now have to start from scratch,” he told Inquirer.net during an interview at the health center, which serves as his temporary office. Outside, sacks of relief goods crammed the receiving area.
The municipal hall was among the buildings damaged by the storm surge of super typhoon “Yolanda.” With its roof torn off, only parts of the structure are being utilized to store most of the goods.
Asked what the people should do now, the mayor said, “Wag umasa sa gobyerno kasi hindi habambuhay (ang relief). Ngayon makakakain pa kami dito. Eh sa isang buwan makalawa dalawang buwan paano (They shouldn’t depend on the government because relief will not last forever. Now we are still able to eat. But what about next month and the month after that)?”