Gary Neely is my cousin-in-law — the husband of Rena’s cousin, Rose Sagales. He and I both share a similar affliction, which is great affection and respect for the Philippines and Filipinos — based in no small part on our superwives, who like all overseas Filipinos are a major provider for the whole family back home, and put their whole heart and soul into helping their family all the time, not just when disaster strikes. Rose is from Bolusao, which one of the other coastal barangay villages of Lawaan — a sister barangay to Guinob-an, our hometown. Gary shared with me this update he sent out to his American family members as he tried to share with them what the typhoon experience has meant to him. Also, Gary and Rose have set up a Typhoon Relief Project for Bolusao for emergency relief supplies for Rose’s hometown similar to the one we have made for Rena’s hometown of Guinob-an. Please visit their relief project and learn more — and remember to Like it to Facebook and click “I’m In” even if you can’t donate, as these two actions help. Click to visit Typhoon Relief For Bolusao.
TYPHOON HAIYAN — FROM CALIFORNIA
It’s been 8 days since our lives were turned upside down by the typhoon in the Philippines. I want to share with you what we’ve experienced, and some things I have learned about Rose, her family, and the Philippines.
On Thursday afternoon, Nov. 7 here at 1pm (5am the next day, Nov. 8 in the Philippines — they are sixteen hours ahead) Rose was on the phone with her brother Ruben in Bolusao and I could hear from the tone of her voice that she was truly worried. Typhoons hit the Philippines all the time, but this time the government had really tried to impress upon people the need to evacuate or, failing that, take shelter. The problem was that in the small coastal villages like Bolusao, there are no large, sturdy buildings. The home that Rose and I have been helping her brother and parents rebuild was the sturdiest structure available. They sheltered there, less than 150 feet from the ocean.
Ruben was telling Rose that the wind was getting stronger when suddenly they were disconnected as the first part of the monster arrived. This happened to thousands upon thousands of families at about the same time — the phones just went dead. Then for three full days — nothing. No word. And meanwhile the images of devastation started coming in. Rose was sick with fear and I was too.
These are good people; they didn’t deserve this.
For three agonizing days we tried repeatedly to call them but of course along with the power, the cell towers were also down as well as land lines — we couldn’t get through. None of Rose’s friends could get through to their families either. Then on Sunday night word came from Rose’s cousin’s brother that the family had survived the storm.
He had bravely ridden a motorcycle over ruined, devastated coastal road until he was able to reach a place that at least had a cell signal.
He called his sister here in LA and she and her husband called to give us the news about the families — ours and hers, who live in Guinoban, just east of Bolusao. Both were okay — victims of the destruction but alive.
On Monday night around 10:00 here Rose was finally able to reach Ruben on the phone. He had driven with several others many hours to the same area mentioned above for a signal so he could reach us. Rose was able to talk to him and get a first hand account of their struggle to survive the fierce winds and tidal surge. According to him they were saved by a combination of factors. First, the wind was blowing from the northern interior of the island to the sea, and second — it was low tide. As a result when the storm arrived, the rising water was not as bad has it could have been — was not as bad as in Tacloban, which we’ve all seen on the news. But “not as bad” is arelative term. It was chest deep in his home. Rose’s parents were staying in their partially finished new home which fortunately had stories. They and several neighbor families had to evacuate to the second floor to escape the high water. The wind blew out the windows and her dad was cut by some flying glass. But everyone got through it okay.
Ruben said the ferocious winds peaking at about 200mph did not abate for 4 full hours. This typhoon’s size and strength was unlike anything ever to make landfall in anyone’s memory. It was a once in a century storm — or maybe even more rare than that. And it lasted for four full hours. I heard a news report that its size was bigger than Katrina and Sandy combined. I checked and last May’s Moore, Oklahoma vicious tornado was on the ground for 39 minutes and passed over 17 miles causing death and almost total destruction in its path. At least in Moore rescue and emergency people were able to be in place in a short time. There were no emergency personnel for Bolusao. The people were on their own. Bolusao lost 5 citizens and of course Rose knew them all.
If you open this link about the geography and location of their place you have a better understanding of how, on the one hand, Bolusao is remote — and the other other hand, how many islands there are and how many towns like Bolusao were in the path of the storm. Just as the relief agencies were overwhelmed — so were the media. CNN and other news agencies were almost immediately reporting the devastation from the major city of Tacloban and never got any farther than that. But while Tacloban has 200,000 population — it is only one of more than 200 cities, towns, and villages that were hit by the storm. One thing that was unique about Tacloban was the tsunami like storm surge they experienced there. This surge was more devastating here because it lies where the Gulf narrows and there is nowhere else for the surge to dissipate so it just pushed ashore. For you history buffs Tacloban is the place where General Douglas MacArthur came ashore to begin the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese in WWII. It was the first city liberated and served as the capital for some time. We hope the fantastic statues of the arrival of forces is still there but we are not sure yet.
Bolusao and all the other small villages along the southern coast of Eastern Samar also were 95% destroyed. Every town is completely devastated. There’s nothing there. And for days and days and days — no help from anyone. Its hard for us to imagine that it has taken so long for the “authorities” to reach them for aid, food, medicine, etc. It seems they have been forgotten what with all the emphasis on Tacloban and the larger population areas. I think it is a combination of location and some lack of organization by the “authorities”. Rose and I have talked about it. We are truly committed to helping them recover.
My admiration for Rose, her cousins Rena in LA , Arlyn in Sacramento, Elma in Cookeville, TN and several others that are at least 7,500 miles away from home knows no bounds. I watched them as they were all monitoring Facebook groups of fellow Filipinos and trying to sort fact from fiction, frantic about the fate of their families — helping each other, caring for each other. We were literally on pins and needles trying to endure the fear of not knowing. I will probably never understand how she made it through except to know that the indomitable spirit of the Filipinas in general and especially of the one I was lucky enough to marry is a mighty force.
I hope you don’t mind the length of the story. This has been a life altering experience for both of us. It has made everything about life seem so precious and has made me feel more connected to Rose and her family than ever before. I admire and respect them in ways that are difficult to articulate. I could go on for several more pages but I just wanted our friends and families to get a better understanding of the scope of the situation, and how it has affected us. We are blessed that those dear to us have survived, but they face enormous challenges ahead. They are alive, though, and that’s what matters.
We hope all of you are well and are looking forward to a fantastic
All the best,
Gary and Rose