Escaping hell: A family's story of survival
MANILA, Philippines - The look on the face of Warren Pasi is hard to explain.
His eyes are empty. He is often staring into the distance, if not resting his head on his arms. He refuses to talk. His face is blanketed in a daze.
"He's not himself," his wife Katherine said.
At Villamor Airbase in Manila, Warren sits with his family: his 4 sons, aged 12 to 17, and Katherine. His oldest son, who is 19, is still in Tacloban with his wife and two kids.
But they too survived the storm.
The Pasi family is lucky that all of them made it out of the storm alive. Eight days since Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), ravaged their hometown of Tacloban, they finally make it to Manila, via one of the C130 military planes that are transporting victims out of the nightmare left by the world's strongest storm.
Katherine, who moved to Manila in September to become a call center agent, holds her youngest, Karl, in her arms. She said when the storm hit Tacloban in the early morning of Friday, she was worried, especially when she could not reach any of her family members.
Yolanda had cut down power and communication lines in the province of Leyte, rendering the rest of the world completely blind to its condition – until the next day.
Hell as Katherine knows it, started Saturday morning when the first reports from the ground started coming in.
Katherine said she was hysterical when she saw news reports of bodies lining the streets. Then she saw TV footage of the actual town she grew up in, completely destroyed. Glued to the television, she scanned shots of the crowd searching for a familiar face – her husband, her son – but found none. By Saturday afternoon, Katherine was adamant about flying to Leyte to find her family.
She spent all of Sunday shuttling from one military base to another, begging to hitch a ride with soldiers en route to Tacloban, but to no avail. She cried all day, unable to eat or sleep, not knowing if she still had a family.
On Monday, 3 days after the storm, she received a text message from an unknown number: Ma, we're all alive.
Surviving the storm
Katherine's 17-year-old son Lance describes his story of survival.
He evacuated his wife and his 7-month-old son from their home and stayed at his neighbor's two-story house after he was told this storm would be different, that it would be extra strong.
But even the warning was not enough to prepare him for what would happen. (READ: 'We should have said, expect a tsunami')
"Hindi namin inexpect na ganyan yung tubig kataas. Kasi hangin lang [noong una]. Tapos noong ano na, yung bagyo may kasama nang tsunami at ipoipo."
(We didn't expect that the water would rise that high. It was just strong winds at first. Then later on, the storm returned with strong waves and a whirlwind).
A 6-meter storm surge hit Tacloban mid-morning.
"Marami kami doon sa nilipatan namin. Marami kaming kasamang mga matatanda at mga bata, kasi yung in-evacuationan naming bahay nasira. Isang kwarto na lang [natira]," he said.
(There were many of us where we evacuated. We were with a lot of old people and children, because the house we evacuated to got destroyed. Only one room was left).
He and his family huddled with 11 others in the only room that was still intact. At the height of the storm, as he held his young son in his arms, Lance said he was just waiting to die.
"Nagdarasal kami, tapos [naisip] ko yung mga kamag-anak namin, ganito rin ba nararanasan nila? Hawak-hawak ko na lang anak ko. Sabi ko na sa [asawa] ko, wala na tayo. Kung magiba itong isang kwarto, patay kaming lahat dun."
(We were praying, and I thought of my family, is this also what they're experiencing? I held my child. I told my wife, we're done for. If this room gives, we all would've died).
The room withstood the storm.
In another part of the city, Warren tried to keep his other younger sons alive. He made them wear helmets, so in case the house broke, their heads would be protected from the debris. It was the least he could do.
As the winds grew stronger and the rain battered their home, Warren held Karl tight. The water started to come into the house, faster and faster, higher and higher. Karl did not know how to swim.
The water stopped rising just below Karl's chin.
The Pasi family knows how blessed they are to all have made it. But 3,974 others were not as lucky. That number includes two of the Pasis' young cousins, who were swept away by the waves after their mother lost her grip on them.
Warren spent the two days after the storm walking through Tacloban – corpse-filled, debris-covered, stench-aired Tacloban – searching for Lance and his family. He thought they were dead.
His sons looted stores to get by, to feed Karl. Lance too, separately, was doing the same thing.
"Hindi na normal ang mga tao. Lahat gagawin para makakain lang. Pumapatay," Lance said. "Pumasok rin ako ng grocery. Kumuha rin ako ng mga pagkain, gatas. Pag magpadala ako sa takot, yung anak ko mamamatay, magugutom pamilya ko."
(People were no longer normal. They would do anything just to eat. Even killing others. I also looted a grocery store. I got food, milk. If I allowed myself to be afraid, my son would die, my family would starve).
On Monday, Warren found Lance at a relative's home that withstood the storm.
The Pasi family had been waiting at the airport for a flight out of hell for 3 days, since Wednesday. The wait was a different type of torture.
"Kasama ko yung asawa ko at anak ko. Noong una, parang wala lang. 'Eto na makakasakay na kami.' Noong pag gabi na, hindi na nagpapasakay yung mga sundalo dahil yung pila daw hindi maganda. Kasi wala nang disiplina yung mga tao dun. Gusto nilang makaalis nang mabilis," Lance said.
(I was with my wife and son. At first, it was okay. "This is it, we'll be able to board." But at night, the soldiers stopped letting us get on because the line was disorganized, they said. Because people were no longer disciplined. Everyone just wanted to get out right away).
"Tapos yung anak ko nga, hindi kami natulog nun. Nung gabi na, hindi umiiwas yung mga tao sa pila hanggang mag-umaga. Andun lang kami sa pila. Noong umaga naman, ang init. Yung anak ko wala nang tubig, walang nagbibigay ng pagkain doon… sa airport mismo walang pagkain."
(My son, he couldn't sleep. Even at night, no one dared to leave the line. They stood in line until the morning. In the morning, it was so hot. My child had no water, no one was giving food there… in the airport itself, there was no food).
Lance finally decided to return to his aunt's home Friday afternoon so his wife and child could rest.
On Friday night, Lance decided to return to the airport with his father and 3 younger brothers to survey the situation.
A policeman relative helped sneak them into the airport. Lance said security at the airport that night, a week after the storm, was less stringent. Guards were tired and not as attentive. Crowds had thinned.
Warren and his sons soon found themselves on the tarmac and able to board a C130 bound for Manila.
But Lance's wife and son were left behind. Warren forced Lance onto the plane, promising him he would make sure they would follow on later flights, along with Lance's oldest brother and his family.
The plane landed in Manila at 3 am, over a week after the storm. Thousands more are struggling to leave Tacloban.
At the airbase, Lance was distracted, constantly thinking about the family he left behind.
"Masakit nga po eh. Noong nakasakay na ako ng eroplano, parang ayaw kong sumakay, gusto ko silang kunin," he said.
(It's painful. When I got on the plane I didn't want to go, I wanted to get my family).
But here, life is infinitely better. There is water, food, tents providing medical help and counseling, and piles of clothes – free for the taking.
Col Miguel Okol, the spokesperson of the Philippine Air Force, told Rappler the constant exodus has forced his men to step it up but it's been made easier by the hundreds of volunteers.
"We're organized exactly because the influx has increased. From the two C130s or 3 that were transporting people back starting last week, to more than 7 or 9 working every day. So [we're] bringing in about 100 evacuees from Tacloban to here [per plane]," he said.
Volunteer doctors, psychiatrists, nuns, politicians and common Filipinos – who have donated relief goods or have offered their vehicles to drive victims to wherever they need to go – come together to welcome evacuees with open arms. Most typhoon victims go to their relatives' homes to seek shelter, while those who have nowhere to go are brought to evacuation centers where they are cared for by the government.
"Volunteerism really works here," said Okol.
As of Saturday, November 16, Okol estimated close to 3,000 people have arrived in Manila via their planes.
Dealing with the aftermath
Lance and his mother Katherine will return to the airbase every day to await the arrival of their other family members. He said he will return to the hell that was Tacloban in two days if his wife and son have not yet arrived by then.
For now, the Pasi family will sleep at Katherine's place in Pasig, cramped, but alive and together.
Katherine will have to work overtime to meet her family's needs. She worries about 6th grader Karl who is scheduled to graduate in March. Where will he go to school? She worries about her other sons who have not finished high school. How will they find work here?
And she worries for her husband Warren, who is hollow and distant and a shell of his former self.
Lance too is concerned. He doesn't know how he will provide for his family when they arrive. He said he will eventually return to Tacloban when it is rebuilt. Or maybe not. He said perhaps he will stay in Manila if things work out here.
Meanwhile, Karl whispered he saw corpses on the streets. He said he lost many of his friends and classmates who sought refuge at the evacuation center torn down by the typhoon.
And Katherine just wept. – Rappler.com