Beyond the Storm: Hope

Julianna, Angelika, and Lance
 I love you, little people! But God loves you more!
(A simple account of how three kids survived typhoon Haiyan.)

"He reached down from on high and took hold of me, He drew me out of deep waters" (Psalm 18:16).

A monster storm was coming! Okay.

For most people in the Philippines, we get to experience storms not just once, but even more than there are fingers on our hands and toes on our feet. But everyone was warned that this one was going to be a terrible one. So everyone prepared.

My parents did. Having been in a fire last year that totally took everything, home and stuff, except their lives, they had to. The new house wasn't ready for a huge storm. The roof was not complete, the walls were not finished (just raw hollow blocks), and there were even no shutters on the windows yet. But they tried all they could to keep the house secure.

The storm came. It rained, then stopped. The wind blew like crazy, however. It howled and screamed. It was deafening. And it took the sea with it.

Nobody was really prepared for what was going to happen.

With most houses in Tacloban literally built on the coastline, everyone was taken by surprise. Water from the sea rose really high, as high as 17 feet. People started scrambling around for higher ground.

My parents, both beyond their 60 years, started getting concerned for their three grandkids who were with them--- my 5-year old daughter, my 11-year old nephew, and my 8-year old niece. The girls were cold so they put jackets on them.

Then the first storm surge came. It covered the first floor of the house. There was no escape except up. Water rose so fast. In less than an hour it was on the second floor of the house where my family was. It was the second water surge. The roof was in shatters ready to be blown away piece by piece.  The windows had grills as my parents were living in the most notorious part of the city. A part of the grills on the second floor window had an opening but was shut by a lock. However, as the water continued to rise fast, the key to that opening was lost in the waters. My family were trapped! 

My parents thought of what they could do best at that moment. My father tried to break the grills from the walls so they could climb out to the next door house, which was three-storey high. They were holding on to the window grills on the second floor, all five of them, and as my daughter said, they shouted, they prayed: "Lord, save us!" Then the third water surge came, as high as a three-storey building, as strong as a battering ram, breaking down the concrete walls of the house and sweeping all five of them and everything inside away.

The next thing they knew, as my daughter related it to me, was of them falling on 12 feet of water from our second floor house. My nephew came out of the water and he said, he saw two lights in the sky (it was daytime), looked around and didn't find his grandparents. Both of them. He, instead, saw his younger sister on his left near the debris, overwhelmed again and again by waves; and on his right, his little cousin floating, bobbing as her jacket puffed up in the water.

Bobbing on the water, my little girl saw her grandparents trying to swim and calling for help, but the strong waters carried them far away. She also called for help. The waves were sweeping over her.

Lance acted right away. He swam to his sister, who thought it better that she's under the water than being attacked by the big waves. He helped her up on the debris. He came back for his cousin (my daughter) who was trying to keep her head above the waters but was having a difficult time doing so. She was calling to him for help. He took her in his arms and she tightly squeezed his neck for dear life. He put her up the debris as well. Then he told her to crawl on them. "Crawl or you will die," he urged.

The three of them were now fighting for their dear lives on each of their own. As all this was happening, they were being quickly swept by the whirlpool of water, while the angry winds hurtle just about anything around them--- iron sheets from roofs, boulders of cement, big and small planks of wood, vehicles, pieces of iron, house stuffs, and just about anything. Lance jumped and ran on the debris. Julianna crawled and made good progress on her own. While Angelika inched her way over the debris, crying to her cousins for help all the time. 

But it was best that they were on their own. They couldn't stay on one piece of debris or would all fall down to the bottom of the water, all three of them. They also had to keep moving to a safer and higher ground. At times, they did fall from the debris, which was floating 12 feet or higher above the ground, but they would scramble back on them. Until they got to a four-story building that was still being constructed and with workers staying on site.

Lance, my nephew was swept near the building and he was able to climb to the second floor by himself. When he did, all he could do was hug his knees and cry hard. Emotions had set in. 

Julianna, my niece, was floating far. The construction workers in that building threw a wire at her, the only thing that they could find at the moment, which she held on to. She tried hard to climb up. But the water, with all kinds of debris, kept smashing at her. But after many attempts, she too was able to climb up. Only to find her legs covered with cuts and wounds, bleeding and raw, and she could not stand up and walk. So she just sat down and shivered with the cold.

Angelika, my daughter, was given the wire as well. But not totally understanding the severity of the situation, she refused to hold the wire and climb up. Or maybe, she was just simply too tired to do that. She just limply put her head down on the piece of house wood that she was holding on. Yes, she had gone tired from all the climbing and falling, and even drank some of that black water, just to stay afloat in that horrendously high water. And she was scared. Really scared. (Her own words.) Amazingly, and which I am so thankful for, one of the men decided to tie the wire around his waist to go get my daughter from out of the angry elements. He was let down and he scooped her up from the raging waters and into safer ground.

The men changed the children's clothes with dry ones, squeezed Angelika's tummy so she would throw up the water she had swallowed, and made a little bed for her to sleep in. She told me, she slept. It must have been a very restful sleep after all the ordeal that they had been through.

After the storm was gone, the children were taken to the Adventist headquarters in that area, which is just in front of our house. My parents' helper, who had three children herself, kindly took them in. She and her kids were like family to us. They didn't have any food as all the food that they had prepared were swept away by the water. By Friday of night fall, Emma was able to find food and give it to the children. It was their first meal since Thursday eve.

Another friend of our parents was checking on all that the storm have done to the church and found out about the children's survival. He knew that Emma, my parents' helper doesn't have the means to feed her own kids and the other three, so he decided to take the three kids in his home. There, the wounds on their legs were cleaned, they were given dry clothes and food to eat.

By Sunday, my older sister who was in another town during the storm, was able to come for her children and my daughter. She walked for hours as there was no means of transportation. The roads were blocked by fallen trees and all kinds of debris and dead people. She didn't know what she would find when she got to Tacloban, but she was hoping to see her children again. And they did see each other again. With the kids still trying to look for their grandparents, my sister's coming was like a warm blanket on their hearts blasted by the fierce, cold storm.

My sister took them home with her, but as everybody now know, it was very difficult to live in Tacloban after the storm had ravaged everything. There was no food, no water, no power, no means of communication, no transportation, no homes, but plenty of debris, fallen trees and bodies. And to add to the injury, some bad people were going inside homes, ransacking and even killing. Women and children need protection. They need a safer place to live.

And so the plan for an exit came up. There was no other way. My sister and the kids would have to leave our beloved Leyte. Maybe for now. (More on my family's exit from Tacloban next post.)

Many people are wondering how the children could have survived in that storm. I wonder too... and am totally amazed. Something that was meant to destroy have been turned into God's glory. It was nothing short of a miracle. God saves. It was His providence that all three kids are safe. Amidst an overwhelming storm, He was my family's hope, He was their higher ground, He was their rope, He was their long arm. And now, there is no doubt that He is our life.

Everyday is a miracle. With odds against us, our very lives are miracles. Thank God He keeps on working miracles. He is our hope, our only hope in this sin-ravaged world. Hold tightly onto Him.

"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks him" (Lamentations 3:22,25).



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