Praxy knew of the storm the day she left Pomeroy. I noticed the storm on Wunderground’s tropical update when I checked the flying weather from Spokane to Seattle. I alerted her that the forecast was serious but, foolishly as it turned out, both of us brushed it off. After all, how bad could be possibly be? “Just another typhoon”, she said, and I trusted her judgment. She had been through many typhoons as a child and young adult.
Praxy always regarded the typhoons as a happy time. No one was scared, but there was anxiety for safety and the livelihood of the people. That livelihood was fishing and coconuts, with some subsistence gardening and farming. The goats were penned in their shed. Extra food and boiled drinking water was prepared and belongings were buried in the ground a long ways from the beach. Evacuation was to the larger and better constructed houses. Larger typhoons had people fleeing over the low mountain to nearby Salcedo over the trail between the barrios to seek shelter there. The trail had (and still has to this day) concrete steps, many of them. The steps were put in during the mid ‘60s.
Praxy smiles thinking about the good old days of her childhood. Of gathering with her playmates during the typhoons. Playing games and talking. Sharing foods and companionship. Chasing each other around the house as the adults patiently waited for the winds to abate.
After the typhoon passed, everyone would gather. No one ever died, few were injured. As a group, the village of Asgad would work together rebuilding damaged houses and businesses. The houses were made of sticks and palm fronds. Plenty of building material was always available. The children always joined in a scavenger hunt, picking through debris to help their friends and families find lost possessions, and coconuts that were knocked from the trees. All items stashed in the forest were recovered and restored to the “new” houses. After a week or so things were back to normal.
At the airport in Spokane, I had an uneasy feeling about it. So as we parted and she went through security screening I advised her to stay far from the water and take shelter in the safest possible place. I mentioned that she had mentioned the Eastern Samar University campus was quite safe and on high ground. I told her to strongly consider that as shelter if the storm grew large and dangerous.
Arriving in Cebu, the first warning. All school classes were cancelled throughout the area. Praxy spent one night is Cebu with relatives and their children. All OK.
Due to aircraft schedules, she had to spend the next night in Tacloban at the fancy Leyte Park motel and suites. We had looked at the place on our previous trip. It needed a little TLC, but the view of the ocean and surrounding area made it a very attractive place to spend the night.
Second warning in Tacloban. All schools were closed and now there were warnings of a super typhoon now called Yolanda in the Philippines, but Haiyan elsewhere in the world. It was approaching and all people were being advised to prepare.
Praxy never thought much about it. “I’ve seen typhoons before, it can’t be THAT bad”. She calmly caught a Vans Vans microbus to Guiuan to drop off her luggage. She drove to Baras to get the key and rented the house we had chosen in Guiuan. It was near the airport.
It was like a little closed compound with no way to see out. The house was quite warm because of the poor air circulation. She had to run around with few clothes on, but that didn’t matter. No one could see in, and she couldn’t see out. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary with the weather.
Next morning, Praxy made contact with Catharine. Praxy bought a new cell phone and while waiting for it to charge, she made what would be our last contact for two weeks. I can remember it well. She had forgotten her Facebook password and and so had signed on to Catharine’s account. I smiled as I supplied the requested information. Then the last thing…”The house as many ants in it. Can you please bring plenty of ant bait?” We never talked, just exchanged messages.
By now, people were starting to become concerned. Businesses were selling many supplies as people stocked up for what could be a serious situation. Since the house was SO hot, Praxy looked into buying an air conditioner for us. But, she decided it was time to leave for Salcedo and decided to install the air con after she returned from the college reunion. She secured permission to install that air conditioner before I arrived. Bless her!
She caught a tricycle (motorcycle with a covered sidecar) for the 25 minute ride to nearby Salcedo. The organizer of the alumni reunion for Saturday November 9th had decided to postpone due to the approaching typhoon. Praxy’s close friend from college is Dolor. Her house was just across the street, so Praxy decided to spend the night there. Due to lack of sleep, jet lag, and travel, she had one of her migraine headaches. So Praxy asked Dolor for pain pills and a place to sleep. Five minutes later, she was out. Noon the day before Haiyan hit.
First big time warning…At two o’clock pm, Praxy woke up to Dolor screaming at people. She is in charge of the welfare of the local people, a counselor of the barangay 13. She was yelling, telling everyone to get the children and old people to the nearby church or shelter. No one seemed upset but her. The sun was shining, no wind, clear bright skies. But Dolor was door to door throughout the neighborhood, nagging, cajoling, anything, to try to get her friends, family, and neighbors to safety.
No one believed her. Well almost no one. Someone was pushing an old person in a pedicab (bicycle with a covered sidecar) to the shelter. It was hard work, going up a fairly steep road. Then, Dolor returned to Praxy and begged her not to return to Guiuan. Reason? “There is a big typhoon coming and I am in this house alone. There is plenty of room”.
Since here house was built of concrete, Praxy decided to stay. Two best friends gathering for comfort.
(This next part is amazing to me, Ken. I can hardly believe my ears as I type this. I could plainly see the size of the storm as I watched it bear down on Guiuan. I was watching in horror from my job at the dam. Real time satellite images. At the time, I believed Praxy was going to ride the storm out in Guiuan. Outer cloud bands were far past Manila, 400 miles away!)
The weather was normal for this time of year. An occasionally short, heavy downpour followed by clear skies. A family showed up in the afternoon to seek refuge with Dolor and Praxy. Parents, daughter, son, two neighboring children, one 4 years, another 13 months. Two nieces of Dolor. So we have 10 people with Dolor’s daughter arriving about 5pm. 11 people spending a night that wasn’t considered too far out of the ordinary.
Soon, the short downpours starting coming closer together. Finally, at 8pm, the winds started. Gentle winds. These winds remained gentle until midnight with the rain becoming more frequent.
At midnight, the storm struck…
11/20/13 6:00 pm