An Emotional Visit to Cangumbang

Trip Start Jun 28, 2013
Trip End Aug 25, 2014

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Flag of Philippines  , Visayas,
Monday, December 2, 2013

Hello Everyone,
Monday was one of the longest days by far, I still can't believe how much was packed in to 24 hours. We awoke at 4 am, scrambling to grab all the boys belongings in the dark. My boss and I went to fetch the car and then stopped at the office to let the boys jump in. Next stop was Bliss, we picked up 8 volunteers with VFV who were also trying to get out on a military plane. By the time everyone piled in there was literally no room in the car for me, so I walked back to your office as they all headed to the airport. I fell asleep again or an hour, exhausted still from the days before. I was awaken by my boss popping his head in asking if Tom and I could wake up because he has brought two reporters back to the office. In my sleepiness I cleaned up our bedding not really sure if he meant the reporters were here to report or stay. After clarifying I found out there were two more to pick up at the airport still, and they were in fact going to be living with us and reporting throughout Tacloban. It was a good thing to hear after losing three of my close friends on the military plane, and considering the intensity that was building outside our walls.

I hopped in the car with Troy and we set off to the airport to pick up the other two reporters, from NBC. He warned me on the way that there were many casualties in the neighborhoods on the way to the airport, to prepare myself for unpleasant sights and smells. Now on the 4th day, I was thankful to have the warning as the scene was everything he described. On the way we picked up a woman from the Office of the President and gave her a ride to the airport. We interrogated her for answers, to questions that had been roaming around the city for days, what is the government doing? What is the priority? Her answer was, remove the bodies, restore order, and bring food and water. These were the things we wanted to hear, but after 3 days of nothing, we were hesitant to feel hopeful in the success of these agendas. She also mentioned that coastal observers for the government saw the ocean recede 100 meters dry before the storm surge, an incredible picture was reflected in my mind.

On the way back to the office with the two others, we ended up picking up a family along the way. A husband and his injured/sick child and wife who had a wound on the back of her head from the storm, despite it being 3 days later. I gave the little girl some coke on the way, and even though I warned her father she would be upset, he put alcohol on the deep wound on the back of her leg. Though her leg was no longer bleeding the wound was clearly in need of medical attention. Troy dropped me off at the hospital with the family and he took the reporters back to our office. Luckily there wasn't a line at the hospital and through persistent nagging I was able to get them treated swiftly, however when I walked out the door I still felt terrible leaving them without knowing what would happen to them.

When we got back to the office and everyone had lunch, including our 4 new visitors with loads of information to share. We were all shocked by their recounts of the international coverage, calamity and size of the storm, and everything in between. Finally, we felt consoled by the fact that the world knew what had happened and help was on the way. We felt saddened and relieved that the storm was worse than anything before, since we felt disbelief at the catastrophe ourselves.

The reporters were all ready to go, they wanted to see as much as possible. Troy piled them in to his car with some of our employees, but instead of joining them I borrowed one of the rented motorbikes and drivers and set off for Cangumbang. I was determined to get there, even if a boat was necessary. Riding on the motorbike, my anticipation grew as we weaved through traffic and more often sat in traffic. The National Highway still wasn't cleared all the way and we had to pass by the one lone gas station open in the area, so there were many traffic jams along the way. When we reached the town proper there was one last cluster of vehicles as we passed a main intersection and then we were free to drive, carefully passing by mounds of debris on either side.

As we passed by the homes of the town proper, the destruction in other areas remained, though the smell of the deceased did not penetrate the air, a good sign. I hardly recognized the road, despite having rode down it hundreds of times. We rode in to the rice fields and on either side everything was gone, the homes were flatten, the coconut trees were fallen or snapped off, the vegetation had disappeared, and everything was brown, as opposed to the luscious green that once existed.

My concern and anxiety rose with each passing meter, imagining the horrifying possibilities. I stopped when we passed the first bridge and asked someone walking by if there was water in Cangumbang, he shook his head no and we continued. I was nearly in tears when we approached the Barangay Chairman's home along the way, I saw him standing outside and again the driver slowed so I could speak with him. "Mano?" (Sir) I asked, "Is the Center still standing?" His daughter replied from behind him its still there look and pointed in the distance. There across the rice fields, which once held homes and trees blocking the center from view, the center stood. I began to cry and hesitated before I could squeeze out my next question "Is everyone ok?" The Chairman adamantly exclaimed, "No casualties, no causalities." My heart raced and I thanked him as we drove off, my eyes glued to the remains of the center. My mind no longer jumped to horrific scenes, but only to the faces of the children traumatized. The tears continued to flow.

When we reached the center there were two children standing in the road, I called out to them but it took them a moment to recognize me as I took off my helmet. I hugged them so tightly. One after one each child, kissing them on the head as they giggled at my tears. The mothers looked concerned, but we were all thankful to see one another alive. With the children in tow as usual I climbed the center stairs, at the top stood Ate Corazon, she let out a cry before I reached her. We both held each other while we cried, I couldn't imagine what I would have done if she was not ok. I picked up the twins, hugging them and kissing them over and over. I was so overwhelmed by it all that I sat under their tents in the center and we all just stared at each other for a while, happily expressing how thankful we were to see each other.

Then the questions began, and the explanations were needed. "Ate Elsa was Tacloban hit by the storm?" "Was there flooding everywhere?" "Is it true many people died?" "Where is Kuya Carter?" "Where were you during the storm?" "When will we get relief?"....and in return "Is anyone sick?" "Is anyone injured?" "How did you all survive?" "How tall was the flood?" We exchanged questions and answers for a while, they were shocked by the calamity I explained. They told me the center flew off around 8 am and the water was coming in to the center heavily, but they hid the children under the tables and the adults held them down so they wouldn't fly out of the center. The men stayed in their homes, but one by one the homes collapsed and the men made their way to the center, struggling to make it upstairs to safety. The doors had flown off from the pressure of the wind pushing from all sides. The water rose to chest deep and though it was difficult, some families stayed in the first floor of the lone neighbor's house that was still standing. The top two floors were effortlessly disintegrated.

I was overjoyed but also extremely worried about their futures. As my eyes scanned the village I could hardly recognize where homes once stood, only 3 homes stood in the entire area, all of which were at least partially made of cement and all were also damaged somehow. How could I rebuild a whole village? I couldn't think of that long term question, I tried to focus on immediate needs. No one was injured, but they needed food, and soon.

I continued to hug them and share with them what was happening in Tacloban and the rest of the world since the storm. They asked when they would receive aid and all I could say was I would come back as soon as possible with relief goods, I hoped that would be enough to settle their hearts and minds.

I couldn't stay for too long, as the sun was beginning its descent and I had no idea how long it would take me to get back, not to mention I had given the kids my own water and food for the afternoon because I couldn't stand to eat or drink in front of them. I handed over my remaining money to Nanay Elay, telling her if there was anything essential to buy, to have one of the men or teens find a way to buy it with the money. Each of them looked concerned as I put my helmet on and prepared to depart for an unknown period of time.

The children didn't chase after me smiling and giggling like they often do. Instead it was a solemn wave and I turned away after blowing them a kiss, trying to hold back the tears of not knowing when I would see them again.



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Alison on

Wow what an account Elsa, truly heart warming/breaking to read...I too was in tears reading it

Suzy on

Wow. I'm reading. Just don't have anything of worth to say. Love you. Keep being our hands :)

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