It’s been six weeks since I joined All Hands Volunteers’ Project Leyte in Tacloban City. The volunteers continue to work on two ongoing projects in Tacloban: deconstructing the damaged homes in the coastal areas of the city center and building temporary housing at relocation sites in nearby barangays.
This week, I and another volunteer spent the day clearing and deconstructing a small site in Barangay 51. We had to sledge and clear an outdoor sink that was damaged by the storm and a fallen wall. It was a small project; only requiring two volunteers and a half a day’s work.
The man who owns the property is Andy. He and his family live in a makeshift one-story house they rebuilt out of sheets of wood and tarpaulin following the storm. Their original house was two stories: the first floor was made of concrete and the second of wood. We worked in the outdoor patio behind the building, which was the last part of the property that still needed to be cleared following the storm.
Andy walked outside and watched us silently while we worked, smiling when we looked over. He laughingly helped me push a wheelbarrow overflowing with rubble up a small hill after watching me struggle and break into giggles. He urged me on saying, “You are strong, Ariel. You can do it,” as he pulled it up the hill.
After watching us work for about an hour, he started talking about Yolanda. He and his family didn’t evacuate despite the reports from the government and news that the typhoon would be bad. For most Filipinos, typhoons are a constant aspect of life in the Philippines. They happen every year, and every year Filipinos survive them. According to Andy, the night before the storm made landfall, the weather was perfect. “It was like this,” he said pointing to a cloudless, clear blue sky.
Yolanda made landfall in the early morning hours of November 8, 2013. He and his family woke to the deafening sounds of heavy rain and wind. Andy said when you looked outside you couldn’t see anything but whiteness because the rain was falling so hard. Around 8 am the first wave flooded the city. He and his family were pulled from the second floor of their home by the rising water. He held onto his 5-year-old daughter Kate and managed to grab a tree on a nearby property before being pulled into the swirling water. His wife and son also managed to grab onto nearby buildings. They all climbed a rooftop on a tall home behind their house and survived the rest of the storm.
Andy said by 2 pm the weather had cleared and the water was only waist-high. The super typhoon came and went in a flash. When it was all over, the sky was clear blue again but dead bodies lay on every street corner. He watched a woman from the neighborhood pace up and down his street holding her dead baby and sobbing uncontrollably.
Andy and his family were some of the lucky few who survived the storm. But they still feel the effects of the disaster everyday. “My daughter says she is afraid of big waves now,” Andy said with a troubled look on his face. “I tell her not to be afraid. We must face our fears.”
When we finished clearing Andy’s back patio, he walked through the space with a grin on his face. He said thank you more times than I could count; for helping he and his family clear the space so they could start over and for listening to his story. He said it was cathartic to talk about the storm again.
Thank you for reading Andy’s story. If you would like to support All Hands Volunteers and the work they do for Filipinos like Andy, make a donation on my personal fundraising page.
You can follow catch up with all of Ariel’s blogs on her volunteer journey of giving a Helping Hand for the Philippines here.