Guest post from Jeff Ruffalo.
Editor’s note: you can donate to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts here.
CEBU, Philippines - I am a survivor.
And I have been as wounded as any person that has been raped and abused – unwanted and unasked.
To describe to you what it was to survive – and that word is not used flippantly – the Superstorm that was Yolanda (the International name Haiyan) was a descent not only into madness but a journey from the 21st Century to the 13th Century in a matter of moments.
Yolanda was a mad, evil thing that rose up out of the depths of darkness to pounce onto the islands of the Philippines and carve a path of destruction that is unlike anything mankind has ever seen.
Think of the sheer power of Superstorm Sandy that came ashore in New Jersey and pulverized one community after another.
Think of the awesome impact of Superstorm Katrina that laid waste to New Orleans.
Put both of them in a blender, mix well and dump the remains onto the southern oceans southeast of the Philippine Islands and allow it to bubble and rise up to destroy everything in its path – then you will have a small taste of what Yolanda was like.
It was not the finger of God that touched down onto the Earth.
But the fist …
It happened in this way for me, my family, only a few days ago.
I live in Guangzhou, China and married my true love, the former Cris Evert Lato last year. We have twin children, Nicholas and Antoinette, who as of this writing are 4 months old. I am an American and Cris a Filipina … so in order to allow the twins to have their birthright and US Citizenship, Cris and I (mostly her) compiled a massive dossier that included all ultrasounds, records of our 14 trips back and forth from the Philippines to China and reverse – all to prove to the US Government that our relationship was true and real.
As such, these documents had to be presented to the US Consulate in Cebu. I flew from China down to Cebu for this express purpose of visiting the American Consulate, which we did a few days ago. Once that was done, I had a chance to spend a few extra days with Cris and the kids.
Fast forward to last Wednesday.
Cris and I were in Alaya Mall, an upscale shopping center in Cebu when it was flashed that a major storm was coming directly at the city.
Rushing home, we frantically called Cris’ mom on Leyte, a province located on another island located northeast of Cebu and she immediately grabbed her bag and headed out to get onto one of the last ferries down to Cebu City.
The reports were coming in fast and furiously now. The storm was named Yolanda and Philippine government reports were already warning everyone in Cebu to take shelter.
All schools in Cebu were closing and the three major grocery stores/malls were being overwhelmed with panic buying.
I jumped into a taxi and zoomed over to the SM Grocery Store to pick-up whatever canned goods and bottled water I could – but you could forget any bread, eggs or other perishables.
By the time I got to the supermarket, those were long gone. I saw dozens of families rushing up and down isles dumping everything they could into shopping carts only to find they had no money to pay for it at the check-out stands.
I was fortunate to have bought the last cooked chicken the store offered.
Thursday was a “dead day” as Yolanda made her ever so slow advance toward Cebu. Cris’ Mom spent a lot of time with the kids which freed Cris and me to make preparations on her house which fortunately was built quite solidly – unlike the shanty homes with tin roofs that surrounded her backyard.
Yolanda then pounced - descending onto Cebu on Friday morning at 9 a.m., making landfall onto Leyte and the other small islands surrounding it.
Then it hit Cebu City.
When it did the power of this single storm nearly instantly exploded every power transformer in Cebu, sending the second largest city of the nation of the Philippines - of more than two million souls - into complete darkness and by 10 a.m. we all - in the collective sense - had made a one-way journey into the 13th Century. There was no power, no internet service and for most people in Cebu, no running water.
Cris had wisely bought enough candles so we didn’t have to grope in the darkness. The house has standby water tank and we had an inventory of canned goods and other food products ready to be consumed.
The full power of Yolanda then came onto us like an unwanted guest at 3 p.m.
The sky turned an evil black as Yolanda swirled above us.
I went out onto the front patio to look at the full power of nature on display and when I gazed upward at Yolanda, she looked down onto me.
It was the most terrifying experience you could ever imagine as this evil thing looked at me, took me as naught, continuing along on her pathway of complete destruction.
Yolanda placed her full fury onto the northern part of Cebu, churning and grinding away at everything made by the hands of Man.
Nothing physically made by humans could withstand the awesome power of Yolanda.
And nothing did.
Our family huddled together in the darkness for several hours … then Cris, her brother and I braved to go out and try and find hot food. Walking over to a small street, we hopped onto a gas-powered tricycle that took us to the main boulevard near the house. Nothing moved except for the shuffling of humans along the sides of the road.
Cris bought two whole roasted chickens and some tomatoes. I managed to find four potatoes and some sodas to bring back.
We had dinner by candlelight.
Romantic it wasn’t.
By 4 a.m. that Saturday morning, Yolanda had sucked out all of the oxygen in her move northeast and out of the Philippines and what was left was this thick, anxious “air” that burned the lungs.
Not able to sleep, I went back to the front porch and sat outside in front of a single candle that drew in all of the insects from the surround area – seeking the comfort of this single light.
As time slowly passed, I could hear the zombies of Cebu rising from what was left of their tin-roofed homes. Moaning and slouching in their quiet dismay, they passed by without a glance – neither of us wanting to acknowledge each other.
One became two and slowly the group of undead residents emerged, seeing the remnant of the broken trees that were dispersed all around. They too had survived Yolanda and as dawn broke their humanity was slowly returned to them.
Machetes started whizzing through the air as dead wood was furiously being chopped into firewood.
As wood chips flew through the air, I thought of the people of Cebu and of the Philippines.
What an amazing group of people they truly are. The Filipinos are the ultimate survivors and are made of tough stuff. They have been colonized and subjugated by the Spanish, the Americans and the Japanese in the past … and not one month ago lived through a 7.2 magnitude Earthquake only to face the ultimate evil.
We lived another day.
Thousands of their countrymen were not as fortunate especially the city of Tacloban in Leyte.
Yolanda plucked their lives away from them as you might pick fruit from a tree.
My family made it through this event but we collectively never be the same.
Yolanda was a Mad Harriett from the darkness of Hell.
May she rest in peace.