Watching Typhoon Haiyan hit my homeland

When I first heard a typhoon hit the Philippines, I thought it was no big deal.

A screenshot from a video of the storm hitting Tacloban. | Video by Ronnie Arricivita from YouTube

Typhoons are regular occurrences in the Philippines, where I lived until 2006 when my family moved to Alhambra. In Manila, June signaled not only the beginning of classes but also the start of the rainy season. Back then, nothing seemed better than waking up and hearing the announcement on the morning show that classes were suspended due to the weather. I got to stay home while the older students and working adults braved the conditions outside. Usually when a typhoon hits, several streets get flooded with water levels sometimes rising to chin level, depending on the elevation of the area. Sewers get clogged with all kinds of trash, emitting a foul smell and impeding the rainwater from flowing to the ocean. Staying home was definitely more fun, until, that is, we got back to school and discover the tons of make-up work that we have to do for class.

But when I kept hearing about Super Typhoon Haiyan – or Yolanda according to its Filipino name – again and again since it hit Friday, I realized it was actually quite serious. My friends and family in the Philippines were posting status updates on Facebook praying that the storm would pass. And, at last, it did pass them in Manila. But then reports surfaced about its massive impact: 80,000 homes destroyed, 582,000 left homeless, more than 2,000 dead, according to CNN. For once, international media was actually reporting on a typhoon in the Philippines. 

I watched a video a resident of one of the hardest hit areas shot and managed to share Friday morning before power and communication lines were cut. It was like a scene from a disaster movie: winds howled like hungry wolves and torrential rains wiped out every standing structure in the way. Fortunately, most of my relatives live hours away from where the storm hit the hardest. But after seeing the devastation of Haiyan, the images almost did not look real. I could not imagine surviving that kind of disaster with no walls or tables to guard me from the wrath of Mother Nature. 

A Filipino Christian church in Echo Park, Calif. collects donations for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. | Photo by Daniela Gerson

In the face of the devastation, I have been inspired by how people have come together to help the typhoon victims. My Filipino American friends — including friends who would not usually watch the news or pay attention to current events — started bake sales or asked for used clothes to donate to the victims. I felt guilty spending money for myself when I saw what was happening to other Filipinos and decided to hold off on buying a new laptop to donate some of my savings.

As I try to make sense of this tragedy, I think one positive outcome could be this is an opportunity for the world to see the Philippines in a different light. I more often see our country making headlines due to corrupt politicians and widespread poverty. But the response to the storm highlights another side of the Philippines: the resilience and indomitable spirit of the Filipino people, including those who continue to make their presence felt even if they are away from the homeland. Also, critical conversations about climate change and corruption have been put into the spotlight as the world watched closely how tragedies like this could be prevented and prepared for better in the future. Yes, our nation is often struck by tragedy. And yet, we find a way to come together to rebuild our houses, and start our lives over again.

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