By Ma. Dea Devaras
ON NOV. 9, the day after the storm, I went home for the first time to see what Yolanda left behind. Leyte was unrecognizable. Farms and buildings were destroyed, and communication and power lines were down. We lost our house and my sister was still missing in Tacloban City.
The weight of the calamity started to sink in. I hated the government, I got frustrated and fed up with their incompetence, and I cussed them. There was an exodus of refugees trying to flee Tacloban, as dead bodies lined up on the streets.
The magnitude of destruction revealed itself in different levels: from the destruction of properties and loss of lives and livelihood, to the abysmal corruption and inequality that made the effects of the aftermath much worse. Yet to this day, it seems that the whole country is still trying to fathom the storm’s devastating consequences.
My family and I left Leyte again after finding my sister, but after a week, we decided to take a second trip back home. With the help of friends and family, we were able to gather resources to help Mayorga and La Paz, smaller towns in Leyte you have never heard of or seen in the news. We did not raise a lot of money, but we had about 17 boxes of goods, two boxes of nails and a box of rope. It was not enough to save everyone, but no help is small, as what our family believe.
Many reports have been made about the Leyteños. Yes, there were crimes, but some were exaggerated, inflated, or maybe simply fabricated. With these types of terrifying news, it makes it more difficult to get help. Yet in the midst of these trying times, people have come together to make a terrible situation a little bit better.
On our way back to Cebu, all shipping lines were packed, booked even for the next coming days. In an answered prayer, we, along with many others, were able to board LCT (landing craft tanks) Victoria, a big, old, grotty boat. The ship was rented by the City Government of Cebu and security was headed by Lt. Uldarico Coscos from the 83rd Marine Reserve Battalion, a team composed of eight marines. They were all ready to assist.
Camped in the outer deck of the ship were about 100 people, including my brother and sister. I don’t know how many people were inside. By now, comfort meant a white tarpaulin sheet, a bottle of mineral water and my co-passengers’ smiles of relief.
People as I saw them were one and the same – tired and desperate to leave, but hopeful. And while I, preoccupied with the responsibility of making a living, was more concerned about not missing work, the other passengers’ sense of urgency was more primal: it was a new start that cannot afford any delay.
Yet everything is in limbo right now. A deluge of questions need to be confronted. How do we start over? When are we going back to rebuild our lives? That I do not know.
Still, I hold on to the idea that Filipinos have a resilient spirit and will make it through difficult times, smiling. Innovative, brave and generous, we always try to connect with each other in simple ways, such as sharing, food, water, even stories that inspire us and make us temporarily forget the horrors of the disaster, stories that prove that there is a Filipino value strong enough to propel us, with every ounce of hope, forward.
At exactly 6:48 p.m., the boat’s engine roared as we started to leave Ormoc City. Anxiety and anticipation filled the air, although some were even shouting, “Bye, Leyte!” It was a little sad scene, to see and hear that the island everyone called home just days ago is now a shunned place nobody wants to be in. Somebody slap me but that was how I felt. To leave probably meant security, forgetting and survival. But I know they will come back. We will come back.
(*The contributing writer, who works in Cebu, wishes to thank Cebu Pacific Catering Services through Kristine Monsales, Cebu Landmasters Inc., COO Franco Soberano, Dianne Ortiz and family, Sheila Mae Apale, Eric Smith, Pearl Pua, Fiona Escandor, Joyce Abella-Bait, Jerome Cuyos, Mae Romero, YancyAng, Donna De Mesa, Ronald Delos Reyes, and Francisco David II and family.)