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Beyond storm surge

Stories on ‘Yolanda’ were not all about how people have survived the devastation brought by the storm surge but also about how the house in which they took shelter has saved them. 

This is the story of Elena L. Cornista, 61 years old, a widow with two children now having their own respective families, formerly residing in Burayan, San Jose, Tacloban City, during the onslaught of Super  Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

Elena L. Cornista, 61 years old, a Yolanda survivor, gleefully answered questions from Rodrigo S. Victoria, in an interview at her housing unit at Phase 1 of the Gleendale Residences located in Barangay 105, Tacloban City. (Photo: PIA - Region VIII)

“Kung dili tungod sa balay ni Palaña, kaming tanan, ang 13 ka pamilya, nga gilangkuban sa dili moubos ug 50 ka tawo, nangamatay na” (If not due to the house of the Palaña, all of us, the 13 families comprising more or less 50 individuals, may have perished), Elena confided during an interview on November 7 at her housing unit built by the government for ‘Yolanda’ victims at Phase 1 of the Greendale Residences in Barangay 105 (San Isidro), Tacloban City.

The housing unit of Elena L. Cornista in Gleendale Residences in Barangay 105 (San Isidro), Tacloban City. (Photo: PIA - Region VIII)

She recalled how the rooftop of the Palaña house had saved them from the raging flood waters caused by storm surge, which started to rise around 5:30 and lasted for approximately 30 minutes in the morning of November 8, 2013.

Day before the typhoon

Mana Elena recalled that on November 7, a day before Yolanda, her family, together with other 12 families in their neighborhood, had already evacuated to Palaña’s house as they were told by local authorities to take shelter in a safe place due to the presence of a weather disturbance.

Similar to previous typhoons that swept through Eastern Visayas, they regarded 'Yolanda' as a typical typhoon and were accustomed to the howling strong winds and heavy rainfall, despite the news indicating it was a super typhoon with the potential for a storm surge.

Surviving STY Yolanda’s wrath  

Mana Elena expressed that, had the news and government weather agencies clearly explained what a storm surge was, many lives might have been spared from the devastating impact of Yolanda's storm surge.

She recalled that on the early morning of November 8, the strong winds began to howl, instilling fear in her family and others who had sought shelter at Palaña's house. Within a few minutes, the dirty floodwaters began to infiltrate the Palaña residence, and in an instant, they had risen to the highest point of the house, she added.

Roof deck

According to Mana Elena, the roof deck of Palaña’s house had saved them from the claws of death. All of them have scampered for safety, going up the roof deck with no idea in mind that said place would save them all from the deluge.

She recounted that on the roof deck, all of them huddled on the floor, gripping any part of the roof deck tightly to prevent being swept away by the strong winds. To her, the roof deck was a lifesaver, and if they hadn't been on it, their relatives might now be among the thousands of families mourning their departed loved ones on this 10th anniversary of Yolanda.

The aftermath

When everything has been cleared and the floodwaters had receded after about 30 minutes of a harrowing near-death experience, Mana Elena's family and the other families, barely clinging to the house's roof deck, let out a collective sigh of relief, she recounted. Nevertheless, she added that in one or two of the families, tragically, three children lost their lives as they were swept away by the powerful current of the storm surge, despite being in their parent's arms.

The days, weeks, months, and years after the Yolanda tragedy were full of challenges and ordeals, she said.

“Kadto ang mga higayon sa among mga kinabuhi nga nagsuway sa kalig-on sa among kaugalingong pagkatawo ug paglahutay sa tawhanong ispirito” (Those were the times in our lives that tested the strength of character as an individual and fortitude of the human spirit), she said. 

The newly renovated house of the Palaña in Burayan, San Jose, Tacloban City, where Elena L. Cornista and the other 13 families took shelter during Super Typhoon Yolanda on November 8, 2013. (Photo: PIA - Region VIII)
Elena L. Cornista, 61 years old, a Yolanda survivor, during the interview with PIA Region VIII. (Photo: PIA Region VIII)

Today, November 8, marks the 10th anniversary of the catastrophic natural disaster that grabbed headlines both locally and internationally, leaving some survivors with haunting memories. During the interview, Mana Elena, however, simply smiled and said, “Thank God, we are still alive and continue to survive.” (MMP/RSV/PIA Biliran)

About the Author

Rodrigo Victoria


Region 8

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