“Remember….when a fire burns a forest to the ground, everything gets a fresh start”
“I was feeling fidgety the night before, though I can't explain why. My husband accused me of worrying too much. Maybe it was the effect of browsing Facebook where everybody seems to be prepared. On our part, we were not. I only had P 900 in my wallet. We barely have enough supply of essentials for the two babies. I was dreading the storm”.
This is how Christine described her feelings when super typhoon Yolanda ravaged her hometown, Tacloban and other surrounding areas and changed not only the landscape but also the life of the people more than four years ago.
According to Sue Monk Kidd, author of the The Secret Life of Bees, “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here.”
Good stories scratch the itch that lies just below the surface of things, churning up just enough dust to make others curious. They are needed because they speak to the unspoken realities that surround us and provide us with tools for navigating the oft-murky waters of everyday life.
Christine’s story is one that has not to be forgotten. Christine Bernadette Montejo, 30 years old, of Barangay Luntad, Palo, Leyte is married to Mhardy Montejo and has 2 children, Ishin Sachel, 5 years old and Cadiz Exekiel, 3.
At 5 am of November 8, 2013, Chritsine was awaken by the sound of water splashing against their glass jalousie windows. A few minutes later, she felt they were getting wet. Water was creeping out from the ceiling and the floor. Her then-3 year old son was sleeping on a thin mattress in the floor. At that time, they only had one single bed where she and her newborn son sleep, while her husband and their elder son occupy the floor. She hurriedly woke her husband up and asked him to transfer their elder son to the living room before he got completely drenched by the rain.
“After my firstborn was moved to the sala, we heard the glass breaking from the jalousie windows all over the house. I swept my newborn to my arms and gathered my office bag, a few diapers and some of his clothes,” narrated Christine. “We were supposed to go upstairs (our room is located on the ground floor) but my father-in-law instructed us to remain on the ground and stay away from the windows. We all gathered in a corner inside the living room that has an L shaped wall which makes it completely hidden from the outside."
"It was a terrifying experience. The whole house was being swayed by the storm and we felt as if we were inside a rumbling washing machine. While my husband and my father in law were protecting the door upstairs from being blown away by the storm, the rest of us were praying the rosary. When the rosary was finished, it was still raining and rumbling outside. It was not long after the surge entered our house and we scampered upstairs and stayed in the room with leaking ceilings as we wait for the storm to pass. I wrapped the babies in blankets to keep them warm. By noon, the rains have stopped. At around 2pm, the water from the surge has completely dried up. My father-in-law hurried to go downstairs and saved what was left of our food to make our first meal after the storm. The others helped to clean up the house while I watched over the babies. We were able to salvage a few of his toys for Ishin to play on,” she added.
The family helpers were asked to go outside to buy some first aid kits. It was through them that they learned about the effect of the storm. Christine sadly recalled the things she saw when she climbed into their terrace.
“It was the first time in my life where I have experienced a devastation which was completely unimaginable. The storm has brought down all infrastructure and has shattered everything that was standing erect. From where I stood, there was only one house with roof still intact. All the rest has been blown out by the wind. Even the electric posts were now scattered in the road. The small hill which was just near our place has been denuded of trees. In fact, the roads were filled with debris which makes it almost impassable. I was told that dead bodies were on the road and covered in blankets, while some managed to bring their dead loved ones at the church entrance. Downstairs, on our little room, everything that we used to own has been submerged in the water and covered in dirt. Still, it was not the loss of the material stuff that scared me. It was the thought that, no matter how secured we are in life, being in tragedy makes us vulnerable. At the blink of an eye, we have lost that feeling of safety, of security, of comfort. At that very moment, we were both helpless and hopeless and I was not sure how long I can bear this situation before I completely fall apart."
Just when they thought they are about to settle down for the night, their neighbors started to panic because of the news that an even bigger storm surge will hit their town before midnight. They packed as much as they could and climbed onto the tallest building in the area. At around 8:00pm, they headed back home.
Christine’s family was very tensed and shocked at the aftermath of the storm that nobody paid much attention to her first born, Ishin. Throughout the day, he did not say much. Even after the storm, he would usually play in a corner and eat when he is being fed. It was not until they went back home at night that they noticed that he was a bit feverish. "My father had a cousin who owned a pharmacy so they were able to purchase a fever syrup for him, recalled Christine. At around 9:00pm, Ishin started vomiting. My sister-in-law, who is a nurse, noticed that his fever was getting high. By midnight, he was vomiting his food and medicine intake. My husband had to borrow a car from his cousin. Together with his sister, headed to Tacloban City and took Ishin to Remedios Trinidad Romualdez Medical Center, where my sister-in-law was employed as a nurse. We were all unaware and unexpecting that the effect of the typhoon in Tacloban was way worse than Palo."
They went back home at around 5:00AM, and were horrified to hear that the hospital could not accommodate Ishin because there were more injured or sick people that needs attention. She learned that it took them an hour to get to the hospital because there were too many fallen trees and debris along the way. They shared different stories such as a mother who gave birth along the hospital aisle and patients in the Intensive care Unit (ICU) who were pulled off the life support because there was no electricity. There was a shortage of medical equipment, the medicines were either hoarded or stolen and only a few staff members were attending the huge influx of patients and the cadavers that were deposited at the hospital. Christine’s sister-in-law managed to put her son on intravenous (IV) and sneaked some more fever medicines. Ishin was getting sicker by the hour. “By morning we knew we had to leave,” said Christine.
At around 8:00am of November 9, Christine’s family packed what was left of their belongings and decided to head for Samar. “We were told that Samar area was not as badly damaged as Leyte so the hospitals would probably still be functioning, she stated.” “However, everybody was heading in the direction we were taking. The streets were congested with cars and people walking on foot, trying to get away from the nightmare that awakened us that morning. Night time came and we were feeling desperate and exhausted. There was a long queue in the gasoline station that would only sell one liter of gas. We knew our plan to get out of the city was doomed to fail,” she remembered.
We moved out of the house and stayed in another relative’s house which suffered less damage. Ishin was sleeping all the time by then. He refused to eat or drink anything we offered him. My husband went outside and he said, he will find a way to get us out. By 10 pm, he was running home and announced that he found a passenger multicab that would take us to Ormoc. He did not tell us that that cab came from Albuera (a town near Ormoc) carrying cadavers that they delived to the Iglesia church in Palo. We were not allowed to bring anything else because we had to travel light. The rest of my husband's relatives opted to stay and it was only our family and his immediate family plus the two helpers who traveled. It took us 6 hours to get to Ormoc (usual travel time would be 4 hours).
Christine recalled that at around 4:00 pm of the same day Ishin was becoming weaker. He was already vomiting too much and there was even blood on it. She remembered that Ishin kept on saying, that he wants to sleep. His pupils were dilated, and was already showing signs of severe dehydration and they were still not unable to give him any medical attention. The IV that her sister-in-law gave him has dried out hours ago. “As his mother, I cannot console him because I was holding the other baby who was peacefully latching on my breasts. It was the most heartbreaking situation for a parent to go through and we were already running out of options to save him,” recounts Christine.
They rushed him to Clinica Gatchalian Hospital only to be informed that the doctors have been called to Tacloban for the rescue team. The nurse was kind enough to allow her sister-in-law to put a new set of IV for Ishin and gave them some antibiotics. Ishin was still weak and drowsy, but his fever had already subsided. They were able to convince the staff of Ocean Jet to give them a ride that would take them to Cebu (even with Ishin under IV, which was against their rules). In Cebu, Ishin was confined at Chong Hua Hospital where he was treated for Acute Gastroenteritis. After he was discharged, a lost relative of her mother-in-law adopted them for two weeks before they travelled to Manila. “It was the start of our new beginning,” Christine uttered.
Christine was very thankful to PhilHealth for the big help accorded to their family. Even though, she was employed at PhilHealth Regional Office VIII, the staff of PhilHealth Regional Office VII helped her secure an MDR and a Certificate of Contribution. In 2013, Job Order (JO) contractors in PhilHealth was enrolled under the Individually Paying Program (IPP). As an IPP member, she was entitled to benefits accorded to all PhilHealth members. She was able to avail herself of an amount bigger than what she expected. “With the countess monetary assistance we have received from PhilHealth Central Office and the other regions, we lived our lives on a daily basis and started rebuilding our homes. We are also very thankful to them for opening this door of opportunity, which is a huge step for me, and for giving me strength to persist and succeed Indeed, they are a true family.” Christine recalled.
Several years after Yolanda, strolling around Tacloban is totally unusual. People starts to restore their lives. Businesses are back to normal. Temporary and permanent housing for the yolanda survivors can be seen around the city. Most of the residues left by Yolanda are no longer in Tacloban, except for the ship in Anibong district which was made into a cenotaph.
But the road to recovery of Tacloban and other towns devastated by Yolanda is far from over.
Christine and her family were among those fortunate enough to survive the storm, They still live in the same ancestral house with her husband's family. Her sister-in-law went overseas to work as a nurse in Dubai. After the Yolanda storm, she considers her family to be blessed to have survived the storm. “Every time we are able to purchase new stuff for the house, I think of what everybody has lost during the super typhoon that can no longer be replaced. Every time my kids celebrate another birthday, I think of all the parents who have lost their young children in the storm and will never have another birthdays with them. I am reminded of the young ones whose parents were carried away by the surge after they were placed on the rooftop or ceilings of what used to be their home. I have heard more tragic, heartbreaking, tear-invoking stories of loss and survival of other people. I still feel blessed beyond any measure but just because I did not loss any member of my family it does not mean I have not suffered too” Christine uttered.
Nearly four (4) years after super typhoon yolanda struck, many survivors are still recovering from the trauma caused by the worst typhoon to hit the land in recent history.
“Months after Yolanda I developed severe anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder that made my sleeping at night beyond impossible. I would wake up each morning asking myself why I have survived and others have to suffer. Even a little rain would terrify me. My process of healing and coming to terms with what happened took over a year, and it was not until the Yolanda Commemoration that I was able to let go of my worries and fears and move forward, after praying for the souls of those who have perished” narrated Christine.
Although the super typhoon was a significant milestone in their lives. Christine did not consider it as a blessing, because she would like to speak for the rest of the Leytenos who would consider it a tragedy. “It was a milestone that made us proud to be survivors of the world's strongest typhoon and be a source of hope and inspiration to the rest of the world. And while my family's story of survival may not be the greatest. it will be retold until the next generation” she stated. (END) (Emy M. Retuta; photo c/o Christine Montejo)
-------- About Christine Bernadette B. Montejo
She is currently employed at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation and was just recently promoted as Human Resource Management Assistant of PhilHealth Regional Office (PRO) VIII.
(Reference: Dr. Israel Francis A. Pargas, Head Executive Assistant and Concurrent OIC-Vice President for Corporate Affairs Group, Cel No. 0917-8089399)