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Tacloban

/ 07:58 AM January 01, 2014

It was a rainy morning in Tacloban when he woke up to find they had brought no sugar-free coffee with their rations. And so he resolved to walk as far as he might to find himself a cup. Four people, loosely related drove overland from Cebu to Tacloban to comfort themselves by looking up old friends and seeing how they were doing. Two of his women companions grew up here. He was only their driver. But he, too, had old friends. It was a difficult drive made dismal by the roadside vista of absolute destruction they had never seen before, though all were no strangers to typhoons.

They had spent the night comfortably in Rosvinil Pension at Burgos St., one of the few hotels that never closed since Yolanda. It was here where ABS-CBN was headquartered and took most of its footages of the killer-typhoon. Even so, he woke up quite groggy. He didn’t walk far to find the object of his search. Over the sidewalk at the street corner he found a small stall of two tables sheltered by tarps and a beach umbrella serving bread and drinks. Behind it stood the remains of what might have been an old wooden house now almost completely demolished. Its absent owner, a foreigner, had allowed a few families to set up makeshift shelters here.

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The rain picked up but he found his coffee, not sugar-free but regular 3 in 1. He allowed this compromise. It was served by Lucia Lacaba and her companion Danny Mojica. With his coffee, the privilege of sharing their story of survival.

They were a family of seven who operated a small store near the coastal area where the public market once stood. They had been evacuated to the Day Care Center nearby when Yolanda made landfall here. Danny remembers counting the waves. The first one, not so big. The second one demolished the center and swept them all away. With his grandson Mathew tucked under his arm, he clung to a barrel floating past. He thought they were going to die. But the water swept the two of them to a concrete building blocks away, just meters from where they now have their stall at Real Street and within sight of the now iconic roofless belfry of the Tacloban Cathedral. He held on to a ledge and heaved himself and his grandson clear from the water. He stayed there until the water receded.

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He had no way of finding out what happened to the rest of his family. While Yolanda blew, visibility was almost nil. Debris was flying and floating everywhere. He thought they were all dead. He would later learn how all were carried by the waves through different inundated streets until they found some structure to climb up to. Unbelievably, all survived. It helped, perhaps, that they had grown up near water. They proved themselves good swimmers.

But Lucia lost four from her side of the family. Over the course of this interview he saw her slowly begin to cry as she listened from the far end of the stall. She must have felt at a loss reducing this mix of emotions into such a scale as the heart might reasonably contain. He could not do it for himself. And he was only a stranger here.

But Tacloban is growing back, just like the new growth of leaves on trees which had been stripped absolutely bare by the onslaught of wind and water just four weeks ago. As he drank his coffee her heard Danny deliberate with Lucia if they should construct a small sitting bench for their stall. Wood was everywhere. But they were also waiting for government to appoint them their “bunkhouses.”

As from before all these, they are at the mercy of the government. It is a government they cannot fully trust. For this was the same government which made made a tradition of disasters as something just waiting to happen. In the martial law years, it was the tradition to hide the slum areas behind temporary walls to conceal the poverty from one First Lady’s foreign friends. Any development here was mostly more cosmetic than actual. Imagine a beautiful city set like a jewel amidst such a huge swathe of poverty living in flimsy hovels at the coast. And now how can anyone help but ask: However did we allow them to live this way for so long?

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