Before they could start rebuilding their lives, survivors of Typhoon Yolanda have to account for their missing loved ones first. Sadly, the Aquino government made it clear that searching for survivors beneath the rubble is not its priority.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte — Although Arman Lebria survived Typhoon Yolanda, one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall, there seems to be no sense of relief in him.
“This is already my second chance in life. I was already drowning. There were bubbles coming out my nose. But I managed to raise my hands and I began to float. I hugged a piece of wood to keep me afloat until the flood water resided,” Lebria, a resident of Palo, Leyte, told Bulatlat.com.
Lebria’s family sought shelter at the Gabriela Women’s Party office in their community. But the floodwater rose too high, enough to drown 13 people seeking refuge in the two-story concrete building.
Among those who died are his two children Moises and Joshua, whom he buried, along with 110 others, in a mass grave in front of San Joaquin Parish Church.
His wife Julie has yet to be found.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, in a report, said that there are 1,613 recorded missing people when Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) hit several provinces in the Visayas islands such as Leyte, Samar, Northern Cebu and Panay Island.
As of Nov. 23, there were 5,235 recorded deaths and 23,501 individuals injured and 2,157,529 families or 10,009,000 individuals affected in 44 provinces.
Interior secretary Mar Roxas, reacting to the reports that three persons who were recovered appeared to have just died before they were found, said that looking for survivors trapped under the rubbles is not the government’s priority. American volunteer rescue group found the three bodies, which, according to the police, did not die due to the storm surge that killed thousands along the coastal communities. The probable cause of death, according to the police, was the illness they contracted while they were trapped under the rubbles.
Maria Fe Manlamano is also looking for her daughter Jessa, who, according to her acquaintances, was seen alive and wandering along the streets of Tacloban. She has been looking for her daughter everywhere.
“It is hard to look for missing people because all of us have our own losses too. But I keep on looking and asking people if they saw my daughter,” Manlamano, who is among the families seeking refuge at the Redemptorist Church, said.
Merly Cabidog, 23, has yet to find her missing mother-in-law.
“She visited me here (at the Tacloban Convention Center) on Thursday. But she went back to our house. On Friday, she was nowhere to be found. We were told that she was sleeping when her friend told her to run. But she could hardly move when she saw the storm surge. It was like a tsunami,” Cabidog said. She added that a lot of her neighbors opted to remain in their houses in Barangay 60-A Sagkahan because they were told that they were going to be hit by a strong typhoon. They were not told, however, that something close to a tsunami, a storm surge, would devour their homes.
She said that their family believes that her mother-in-law could be somewhere under the rubbles in their community. But they cannot retrieve her body yet because of the big pile of debris left by the storm surge.
Many residents, Cabilog said, died in their village. Those who survived, on the other hand, have no homes to go back to.
What keeps them going?
Lele Arias said the only thing that keeps her going is her two other children who managed to survive the storm surge. The other two, however, did not make it. She said they were holding on to their father when they slipped due to the strong current of the water.
Arias said she, too, almost died. She was toppled by debris but she struggled to hold on to a piece of wood that kept her afloat. She wanted to live for her children.
“It really hurts that they are gone. But my two other children are still here. I have to remain strong. But if we lost all of them, my husband and I would rather die. It really hurts,” Arias said, “I can barely bear it.”
Lebria, for his part, would continue searching for his wife. Finding her — in whatever state she may be — would help to somehow heal a part of him that was forever lost due to Typhoon Yolanda.