Sunday, November 10, 2013


I spent most of Nov. 9 watching television. I started with CNN and later moved on to the local Filipino channels. All were, as expected, trying to outdo each other in airing the most gruesome and shocking pictures and videos of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) in the central Philippines and the Visayas region particularly in the now beat-up and battered city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte.

I immediately realized how news worthy the emerging disaster in the Visayas was when I began seeing and hearing on-site reportage by noted CNN journalists Paula Hancocks and Andrew Stevens. Hancocks, in particular, was repeatedly cited by the news network in its initial breaking news bulletins as the first foreign correspondent to fly in to Tacloban and report live from there.

By early afternoon, more and more news updates have slowly began painting an emerging picture of the unprecedented extent of the horrendous destruction visited in many of the affected areas.  In my mind, as well as in the minds of the millions of other Filipinos all over the country who were monitoring the news media, it gradually became clear that in almost all of the lovely, tropical islands comprising the central Philippines, a calamity of unimaginable proportions caused by what has been described by meteorologists as one of the strongest typhoons in recorded history, was become more and more apparent.

In Lianga which belongs to northern Mindanao but in actuality is much farther south of the Samar and Leyte provinces where Yolanda made its initial landfall, the passing of the storm on the early hours of Friday (Nov. 8) as it barreled its way northwest from the warm waters of the south Pacific (which had given birth to it) was manifested only by heavy rains, menacing dark clouds and occasional wind gusts which were never strong enough to cause serious damage and which quickly died down as the morning waxed and waned. In fact, by noontime, the cloudy skies thinned and the sun came out by late afternoon.

Of course, like most Filipinos living in the eastern portions of the country and who were projected by weather forecasters to have more than a decent chance of being caught in the path of Yolanda's fury, residents here were not remiss in making the necessary precautions and preparations. After all, Lianga is a coastal town facing the great Pacific Ocean. It was no stranger to storms and typhoons. Just less than a year ago, they had seen with their own eyes Typhoon Pablo (international name: Bopha) not only manhandle portions of Compostela Valley and the Davao provinces just south of them but also gave this town a thrashing it had not experienced since time immemorial.

In many towns and population centers along the eastern coast of the province of Surigao del Sur (to which Lianga belongs) from Hinatuan in the south to Tandag City in the north, people living in high risk areas were told to evacuate and seek refuge in evacuation centers the day before. Local government officials urged their constituents to stock up on the basic necessities and monitor the progress of the approaching storm.

This time, however,  Yolanda merely breezed through far away at sea and without hesitation decided to strike with her full strength much farther up north. The Leyte and Samar provinces including Cebu and Bohol (still trying to recover in the aftermath of the recent magnitude 7.2 earthquake) got clobbered first as Yolanda maintained her swift rampage northwest across the center of the Philippine archipelago and eventually exited just north of Palawan just more than 24 hours after she struck land.

Chance? Fate? Divine intervention? Who knows? Perhaps high up in the sky or somewhere in the cosmos, in the infinite realms where divine beings play with the lives of mortals, a pair of dice was thrown or a ball thrown into a spinning roulette wheel and Lianga came out a winner.

Yet for many people here including myself, there is a vague, yet lingering, nagging sense of guilt. We here, after all, are alive and well and yet so many others not far away have perished or have lost many of those they loved the most. We still have our homes and our communities intact and whole while so many others not far away have seen theirs bruised, battered and even ripped to shreds. Our lives remain virtually untouched and undisturbed yet so many others not far away just had their lives turned upside down and their immediate futures made tragic, dark and uncertain.

We here in Lianga were indeed lucky and that perhaps is the reason why many of us here, whether we admit it or not, have been touched in our hearts and minds by twinges of momentary guilt undeserved though it may be. Because it is clear that we have been, in the case of Typhoon Yolanda, extremely damned lucky and, in truth, have been favored by Lady Luck so many times over in the past in the face of impending and imminent natural disasters while so many others, God only knows why, have not been as blessed or as fortunate.

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